Post-apocalyptic romance Love And Monsters makes an untimely case for leaving the bunker

Dylan O’Brien and a robot in Love And Monsters

Dylan O’Brien and a robot in Love And Monsters
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Give Love And Monsters credit: If nothing else, it does at least come up with a new (albeit ludicrous) twist on the killer-asteroid premise that once fueled two dumb disaster movies in the same year. In this film’s near future—no year specified, but humanoid robots that could pass the Turing test are apparently commonplace; every other aspect of life resembles our present day—humanity successfully shoots down the lethal bolide just before it strikes Earth. Unfortunately, the missiles deployed for this rescue mission rain chemicals onto the planet, creating instant Godzilla-style mutations in all cold-blooded animals. About 95% of the global population has been killed by these beasties, we’re informed, with the survivors left to eke out a Quiet Place-ish existence in isolated bunkers. Seven years have since passed, and that’s about as long as Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) can tolerate being separated from former girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick). Aimee’s bunker is a week-long journey by foot, and nobody—much less a comparative wimp like Joel—could likely avoid being eaten for that long. But he sets out anyway, because horny is horny.

Making it specifically a seven-year itch exhausts Love And Monsters’ shallow reservoir of wit. Screenwriters Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Matthew Robinson (Dora And The Lost City Of Gold) are plenty familiar with young-adult adventure, but neither succeed in thinking of anything compelling for this lovelorn doofus to do. Oh, they give him companions: Joel is saved from a giant toad by an ordinary dog (remember, warm-blooded animals weren’t affected), who sticks by his side thereafter, and he’s taught the basics of monster-killing by a grizzled old man (Michael Rooker) and spunky little girl (Ariana Greenblatt) whom he happens upon and accompanies for a while. There’s an ostensibly humorous and poignant interlude involving one of the aforementioned talking robots, which shows him photos of his dead parents and provides a Spock/Data-style rundown of the myriad ways that he might still perish. But Joel’s quest is no less anecdotal than that sounds, and keeps serving up bland variations on scenes from other movies—everything from Tremors (“sandgobblers” racing just beneath the ground) to Stand By Me (Joel emerges from a pond covered in giant leeches, though they’re proportionally way smaller than everything else). Even Mav1s, the robot, looks a whole lot like WALL•E’s Eve, with similar digital facial expressions.

Love And Monsters’ one glimmer of inspiration appears toward the end, when Joel—minor spoiler here—finally does reunite with his beloved Aimee, who’d previously been seen only in quick flashbacks to the before time. These snippets of their relationship barely establish them as a couple worth caring about, and what initially happens when they meet again suggests, for a moment, that Joel might have been somewhat delusional about what their teen romance meant, especially given all the years and carnage since their last tender kiss. That’s a bold direction to take for a film that’s selling the unthreatening appeal of O’Brien, star of the Maze Runner franchise; properly executed, it might have tweaked “in the midst of death, we are in love” much like, say, My Best Friend’s Wedding subverted the conventional rom-com. But no. It’s just a feint, and the third act winds up hinging on a truly dopey development involving an Australian yacht captain (Dan Ewing) who shows up as a potential rescuer and romantic rival. (This shifts the action from the woods to the beach, since director Michael Matthews—a South African filmmaker whose sole previous feature, Five Fingers For Marseilles, did not suggest this particular direction for his career—apparently wasn’t given the budget to depict seven years’ worth of destruction and human abandonment in a residential area.) We even get the dog pulling a Han Solo last-minute surprise save after having bailed.

Oh, and while Love And Monsters had already seen delays in its theatrical release date before the pandemic hit, it’s now being sent straight to digital platforms at quite an inopportune time for a movie with a closing message that boils down to “Hey, folks, time to leave your safe little bunkers and rejoin the world, even if that seems kinda dangerous.” Studios are starting to give up on waiting for theaters to re-open, understandably, but Paramount might perhaps have held onto this sucker for a while longer. It’s not as if anyone had been clamoring for it, except maybe those for whom the concept of a young Christian Slater with all of the edge sanded off somehow proves irresistible.

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