There has always been a deep fascination with the concept of an apocalyptic world and film has done much, since its conception, to depict what one would look like.
Whether it be Plagues, pandemics or even parasites, the silver screen has traditionally taken a serious approach to showcase the best of humanity in the midst of disaster.
But recently there has been a rise in films of this genre which have opted for a lighter tone, leaning on humour and heart to put forward values that we hold dear.
One such film that does this with originality, great imagination and refreshing optimism is the recently released Love and Monsters, available on demand and streaming on Netflix.
“It is through the character’s personal journey and growth, sparked by the interactions from those he meets along the way, that audiences are kept engaged and invested in the protagonist’s mission.”
When an asteroid was discovered to be on a collision course with Earth, scientists did what they do best and sent rockets into space in an attempt to stop the pending apocalypse.
Ironically, the debris caused by the explosion mutated all of the world’s cold-blooded animals which then killed off 95% of the human population and forced the survivors to hide in underground bunkers called colonies.
Seven years after that fateful day we meet Joel Dawson (played by Dylan O’Brien), a beloved but seemingly useless member of a colony filled with romantic couples.
Due to his paralysing fear, Joel spends his days cooking for his friends and documenting the bizarre new creatures that they encounter on their search for food and supplies.
But things seem to pick up when a chance callout on a CB radio reunites him with his pre-apocalypse girlfriend Aimee (played by Jessica Henwick) who is only 85 miles away in a nearby coastal colony.
Fed-up with feeling alone and fuelled by love, Joel decides to leave his community and make the seven-day trek toward her with nothing but a hand-drawn map, a crossbow, and a backpack.
It’s a dangerous journey but through the companionship of a dog named Boy, the help of an experienced pair of survivors and a willingness to learn, Joel fights his way through everything that creeps and crawls to make it to the end.
Credit must be given to writers Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson who have managed to put forward a compelling hero who, instead of being skilled and invincible, is flawed and fearful.
It is through the character’s personal journey and growth, sparked by the interactions from those he meets along the way, that audiences are kept engaged and invested in the protagonist’s mission.
“Though addressing the loss of family and fear of extinction is inescapable, particularly in a film that has killed off 95% of the human population, the use of well-placed humour and well-written dialogue does great in maintaining Love and Monster’s upbeat tone.”
The screenwriter’s subtle way in which they take Joel from subordinate to survivor is one of the film’s main successes.
Similarly to the 2009 film Zombieland, Duffield and Robinson have approached the apocalypse in a less dark and depressing manner.
Though addressing the loss of family and fear of extinction is inescapable, particularly in a film that has killed off 95% of the human population, the use of well-placed humour and well-written dialogue does great in maintaining Love and Monster’s upbeat tone.
O’Brien’s Joel gives the film its heart, not only in the broader scope of the plot but in every interaction that occurs on the character’s perilous journey.
His charisma shines through the thickest of greenery as O’Brien’s display of optimism and honesty keeps his character from becoming too helpless or too irritating.
This is particularly evident in one scene where Joel, having jumped into a lake after throwing a grenade into the mouth of a queen slug, exclaims “I feel like Tom Cruise!”.
The result is a likeable and earnest protagonist who’s able to make a genuine connection with every character whether be an eight-year-old girl, an Australian Kelpie or even a talking robot.
Unfortunately this chemistry isn’t as obvious between Joel and his love Aimee when they reunite in the beginning of the third act but, considering they have been apart for seven years amidst the apocalypse, it does not hinder the film’s overall success.
The supporting cast is exceptional with many making memorable scenes despite their limited time in the limelight.
“[Rooker’s] heartfelt depiction of a warm and caring father figure in Love and Monsters is one of the film’s biggest surprises.”
Michael Rooker’s Clyde and Ariana Greenblatt’s Minnow are a standout and their chemistry together, and with O’Brien, will leave you wishing they shared more screen time.
After their families are killed in a subway attack, Clyde and Minnow form a special father/daughter bond as survivalists and actors Rooker and Greenblatt make you believe it.
Rooker is no stranger to the apocalypse genre, his portrayal as the cold and cruel Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead and as the aggressive pirate Yondu from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are infamous.
For this reason, his heartfelt depiction of a warm and caring father figure in Love and Monsters is one of the film’s biggest surprises.
Jessica Henwick puts in a good performance as Joel’s love interest but, after a fun, energetic and engaging second act, their interactions seem estranged.
Though great script writing and stellar performances are key to keeping audiences invested in the characters, it is the world-building visual effects and art direction that keeps them engaged until the very end.
Nominated for a 2021 Academy Award for Best Visual effects, Love and Monsters’ use of VFX are stunning, original and engrossing.
With attention to every detail, production designer Dan Hennah and the teams at Mr X Adelaide and MillFilm have created a post-apocalyptic world that is imaginative and a diverse set of monsters and critters that have purpose and personality.
No creature is out of place and each has been given the perfect amount of size, the right level of lighting and the most realistic movement for its interactions with the characters and the surroundings to push the story forward.
“For it is the love of community, the love of companionship and the love born from a shared experience that truly showcases its value and importance for humanity.”
Amidst the dark reality of humanity’s demise, writers Duffield and Robinson have woven into the story genuine themes of community, teamwork and self-sacrifice for the betterment of others.
Above all, as the name of the film suggests, the core message of the film and the driving force of almost all actions that take place is love.
Yes, love is what compels Joel to leave the safety of his colony in search of a girlfriend he has not seen in seven years, but don’t take this as just another superficial story.
For it is the love of community, the love of companionship and the love born from a shared experience that truly showcases its value and importance for humanity.
Love and Monsters, rated PG-13 for action/violence, language and some suggestive material, is now streaming on Netflix and is a must watch for all families who are fans of fun and adventure.