Tuesday 12 October 2021

Love And Monsters (2021) - Movie Review

After absolutely crushing it last year with Spontaneous, a film I truly hope will go down as one of the most poignant statements on the Millennial generation (my generation), writer Brian Duffield seems to have found his calling in creating coming-of-age stories in truly bizarre situations. With Love And Monsters, that takes the form of Joel, a young-adult survivor of the apocalypse (basically, in stopping a meteor, we wound up mutating all of our animal life into the things that killed off most of the human population) who sets out across the wilderness to reunite with his love Aimee. It is every bit as effective as Spontaneous, and might even go a few steps further.

This is the best Dylan O’Brien has ever been in a lead role. An insecure introvert with a penchant for art and an unshakable moral compass, seeing him in a role that isn’t super-cocky (The Maze Runner series) and/or trying to be a typical action lead (American Assassin) fits him astoundingly well. He’s also a great vehicle for Duffield’s emphasis on truth through his dialogue, with Joel repeatedly shown trying to embellish things to look cooler… only to immediately reveal that, no, he’s not that awesome and he’s actually shit-scared of what’s going on. It’s refreshing and makes for an impressive high point in a cast full of them.

This has got to be one of the most optimistic views of the apocalypse I can recall, especially when it comes to how people interact with each other, as there’s a very warm and inviting mood to basically every person on-screen. The two main bunker colonies (Joel’s and Aimee’s) are depicted as being like large families who really care about each other and, while acknowledging each other’s imperfections, show real compassion to one another. Then there’s Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt as two hardened survivalists on the surface, but even through their tough love, there’s real human hearts in those chests and it shows through in their characterisation.

The film looks great as well. Fittingly for a film about how much all the wildlife wants us dead, it was filmed here in Australia, allowing for some proper breathtaking visuals and scenic shots. Then there’s the aforementioned wildlife, which feature some pretty cool creature designs that take ordinary animals like crabs, snails and jellyfish and makes them both intimidating and… kind of adorable in places. It fits with how the narrative sees interactions between man and… whatever the hell you classify these things as as a matter of survival first and foremost, but never malice for its own sake.

There’s also the dog Boy that tags along with Joel, and while I could make a reference to the classic A Boy And His Dog (or just keep referring to this film as A Boy And His Boy), I’d argue that whatever inspiration came from that arrived filtered by Fallout 3, since this isn’t nearly as dark as the former. It also helps make sense of how it frames Joel’s journey out into the wilderness, and how he encounters Boy, the survivalists, and even a robot later on (mild spoilers, but… be prepared for feels once it shows up).

In essence, it’s a quasi-road-trip narrative where the journey is the important part for the larger picture, and what it manages to say on that front really feels in-tune with the dour but ultimately optimistic tone of Spontaneous. It uses Joel as an example of the underdog, as someone on a dangerous mission for one of the most idealistic pursuits possible (love), and highlights the true heroism in that act. Not simply because he’s fighting giant monsters to get some action, at a time when everyone else in his bunker has paired off except for him, but because it’s an action he is taking that he believes in.

It draws a line in the sand between people who are fuelled by charisma and convince people they are heroes, and those who prove the same thing through their actions. The trip between Joel’s bunker and Aimee’s is a good seven days of walking and running and hiding in tree stumps; there’s a lot standing between him and what he wants. And as someone shouldering a lot of survivor’s guilt and a lack of nerve under fire, in a colder reality, he’d be his dog’s next meal. But instead, he serves as a Model of Selflessness, a Hero of the Wastes, who sees the potential for life beyond the bunker, and all the new things to see on the surface… and decides that he’s spent long enough hiding away. He doesn’t lead by example; he lives by example.

Love And Monsters is, to put it diplomatically, fucking brilliant. It’s an action-adventure with tension and thrills to spare, an aggressively likeable cast, and the kind of writing that could only reach this level of heartfelt resonance within the framing of a coming-of-age romance; it’s an amazing story where it’s difficult to imagine it being told any other way and working even half as well as it does here. Brian Duffield scores his third winner, and officially stakes his claim as one of my favourite modern screenwriters; no two ways about it.

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