Love And Monsters (2020)

OCTOBER 19, 2020


I swore off watching new movies at the drive-in a while back, but after having good experiences at Beyond Fest for Synchronic and Freaky, I figured I'd downgrade my ban to a case by case basis. Based on its trailer, Love And Monsters seemed to check all my boxes: it was a action/adventure-y kind of genre movie, not a moody and atmospheric one, so the occasional distraction wouldn't be as much of an issue, and (more importantly?) it seemed to take place mostly outdoors during the day, which meant I'd actually be able to see what was going on. Not sure why drive-in screens seem to be so murky, but occasionally I peek over at other screens and it's been enough evidence to know I shouldn't waste my time and money seeing that particular film there (New Mutants is a recent example; I watched a few seconds on my way back from the bathroom one night and I couldn't tell if I was looking at Anya Taylor Joy or Maisie Williams).

Plus the movie seemed like something designed for the biggest screen possible, and alas here in Los Angeles that remains the drive-in, because we have too many very stupid and selfish people around here for theaters to even be able to reopen for those private screenings (the only thing I'd consider until there's a vaccine). And it just looked FUN, something that's in short supply these days, making it kind of an ideal choice for an outing (I also had some delicious take-out pasta while I watched, as a bonus!). Dylan O'Brien from the Maze Runner movies plays Joel, an artist who explains the film's backstory in the opening sequence - a meteor heading for Earth was destroyed by thousands of missiles being fired at it, but particles from those missiles and the meteor came back down and created lots and lots of monsters. 95% of the population was wiped out and everyone lives in underground bunkers, trying to survive.

Naturally, he doesn't spend the whole movie in the bunker. When he discovers his girlfriend is at a colony only 80 miles away, he - being the only single person in a bunker full of couples - decides to trek there on the dangerous surface, despite the fact that he's pretty much useless when it comes to fighting monsters (he panics, he can't shoot, etc.). But come on, even though in reality it seems he'll be killed instantly, it's a PG-13 studio movie - of course he will survive, get to his destination, become a better monster fighter, man up a little, etc. There aren't exactly any surprises in the narrative; the appeal of the movie is O'Brien's charming performance (especially when he's paired with Boy, a dog he finds along the way), the occasional big action scenes, and the message of how to live in a dangerous world because there's still a lot of beauty in it.

Oh, and the monsters. The monsters! There are several different ones in the movie; in fact I'm not sure if they ever bring one back - seems like they're more keen on introducing new ones instead of focusing on a "nemesis" type one that will keep resurfacing. Most of them are of the "giant ______" variety (frog, crab, jellyfish) but there are some full on "wtf" types as well, and even the giant (thing) ones have mutations that keep the monstrous/scary element in play. In some ways it reminded me of the creature design in Final Fantasy games, where they start with something innocuous like a snail, then make it bigger and add some crazy stuff to it. And there are even a couple of benevolent ones, so that added to the fun because sometimes they would get ready to fight or run and it wouldn't be necessary (also, it just makes more sense - why would a grasshopper turn into a meat (human) eater?).

Even more fun is that a lot of these things are taught to Joel/us by Michael Rooker, playing a survivor Joel meets along the way. Rooker and a little girl named Minnow are heading for a snowy mountain, where the monsters won't bother going (no monster polar bears I guess), and their path crosses with Joel's long enough for them to teach him some basic survival skills, impart a bit of wisdom, and then exit the movie, leaving us wishing they were in it more. After 30 years of watching him play mostly antagonists, I felt conditioned to think he'd be a standard "evil human" in a post-apocalyptic movie, but nope! He's just a genuinely good dude, and I wish he was around longer (to be clear, and I hope you forgive the spoiler - he doesn't die. He's just not going to the same place so we stick with Joel) for us to enjoy the novelty. In fact, that's twice this year (after Fantasy Island, oof) that he's played a guy living outside the system and stops by long enough to help our heroes. I like this new tradition! More hero Rooker, pls.

There's another thing I really, REALLY loved, but I don't know if it qualifies as a spoiler so skip this next paragraph if you want to enjoy it fresh.

For those still here, there's a robot called MAV1S that Joel finds along the way; it looks like a standard Jetsons-y kinda robot but it functions as a sort of Google assistant, showing Joel a map of how much further he has to go, scrolling up pictures of his family, etc. But it's also almost dead and only has a few minutes of battery left, which it spends playing music for Joel to relax to. Her (not his) choice is "Stand By Me", which seems like just a whatever choice - something familiar (the soundtrack as a whole is surprisingly stacked with recognizable but not overplayed tunes - no "Walking on Sunshine" thankfully) and appropriately hopeful. But it's ALSO foreshadowing a scene that occurs five minutes later when Joel has to wade into a river and starts feeling some minor discomfort. He gets to the shore and removes his shirt, discovering that he's covered with leeches - mimicking a famous scene in the film Stand By Me! The song was priming us to know exactly what was happening to Joel before he did! I love that kind of thing.

Basically it's just a breezy, charming adventure movie, the sort of thing folks can really use right now, with lots of great creature designs to enjoy as a bonus (two for two for co-writer Bryan Duffield, who gave us Underwater earlier this year). It's kid appropriate too; even though O'Brien is like 25 he comes off as a late teen for the most part, so younger types will probably still identify with him. I wouldn't have minded a little more action (Rooker's section is mostly talk, alas - after his introduction, saving Joel from imminent death, I don't think he draws his weapon again) but since the tradeoff appears to be more money spent on making the creatures look good, it's certainly forgivable. It's on VOD already, but if you have a drive-in (or have/can afford the private theaters in those select areas) I think it's worth seeing big, if only for the much needed escapism.

What say you?

P.S. It was paired with Alone, which the drive-in website displayed with a poster for the John Hyams thriller (i.e. something I am interested in, even if it definitely would have been hard to see at the drive-in) but it turned out to be a different Alone, which is another version of #Alive (I guess Alone was technically made first, but released second). #Alive was fine, but I didn't need to see another version of it (with only a few surface level changes) a month later, so I didn't have much use for it beyond getting my admission money's worth. Donald Sutherland played the old man neighbor and he was quite good, but otherwise my verdict is that if you absolutely must watch one of these nearly identical movies, #Alive is the better option. They even have an English dub on Netflix so you can't use the language barrier excuse.


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget