Post-apocalyptic movies are big right now. While we wait for Love and Monsters offers a similar premise, set in a destroyed world overrun by creatures with a taste for human flesh. It’s out on digital platforms like Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video now.to land next April,
But there’s sweetness to go with the PG-rated scares, thanks to the goofy charm of Teen Wolf star Dylan O’Brien and his equally charismatic canine co-star. Throw in a shade of end-of-world banter and you could do worse than give this road movie your video-on-demand dollar. (It was originally set for a theatrical release before premiering on digital.)
O’Brien plays 20-something Joel, who quickly fills us in on the state of the world: Seven years ago, humans blew up an Earth-threatening asteroid with missiles, failing to realize chemicals would then rain down on us and mutate creepy bugs and warty amphibians into less than fantastic beasts.
But that’s old news: Now Joel’s living in an underground bunker in one of humanity’s last colonies. Unlike his peers, he’s the only one who hasn’t shacked up with, well, whoever’s still alive and single.
In between muffling his ears from the thin walls, he pines over his girlfriend from before the apocalypse: Aimee, played by Iron Fist’s Jessica Henwick. In her insubstantial screen time, Henwick eventually gets to show off the martial arts skills she’s known for. But wringing a personality out of her paper-thin Love Interest material is a tough challenge.
Unable to stand being a singleton any longer, Joel sets off on an 80-mile journey across the monster-ridden surface to reunite with Aimee. Never mind that the last time they saw each other was, um, seven years ago.
But nothing’s stopping him, not giant boulder-mimicking snails, “sand gobblers” or slobbery praying mantises that have side-jobs on Doctor Who. When Joel meets Boy, a dog who refuses to unhinge his jaw from the red dress his beloved owner left behind, we go all Hunt for the Wilderpeople, with some of the best, most heartfelt human-animal friendship goals scenes.
“Feels like we’re this iconic duo,” Joel says in voiceover.
Initially, it’s hard to believe O’Brien, who also starred in the Maze Runner series, is a nerd someone actually describes as “small.” But eventually he gives off a scrappy, heroic Hiccup vibe from How to Train Your Dragon, including realizing that not all monsters are what they seem.
Speaking of influences, the script initially shopped around as “Zombieland with a John Hughes-esque love story at its center,” leads Joel to Michael Rooker’s expert hunter Clyde, who both looks like and occasionally produces the fed up side-eyes of Woody Harrelson, aka zombie torturer Tallahassee in Zombieland.
He even lists his rules or “lessons” for survival: “Lesson 10: Keep your socks dry.” His sidekick Minnow, played by a game Ariana Greenblatt, is part-Wichita, part-Hit Girl from Kick-Ass. Elsewhere, The Walking Dead makes a cameo in the humans-can-be-threats-too section.
The whole journey feels like driving a rusted-down car, jerking forward, then halting as you fix it up with any shiny parts you spot lying around. Joel even reunites with MAV1S, an artificially intelligent robot friend on her last battery juice, seemingly for no reason other than to charge his radio and add another pop song to the soundtrack.
Every bit of Love and Monsters is contrived, but this beast has a sweet and sturdy center in O’Brien. You won’t fall in love with it, but it won’t scare you off either.
Love and Monsters arrives on digital platforms like Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNow, Google Play and more on Oct. 16.
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