Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
With a mix of comedy, action, and heartfelt moments, LOVE AND MONSTERS, directed by Michael Matthews, rises above mere popcorn entertainment—and it doesn’t hurt that Michael Rooker is in it!

LOVE AND MONSTERS is about a young man, Joel (Dylan O’Brien), seven years after the world has been taken over by monsters, lives in an underground colony—as do most survivors—and has never been back to the surface. When he learns his girlfriend before the world ended, is 80 miles away, he sets out on a journey to be with her.

LOVE AND MONSTERS is clearly a story of growing up despite Joel being an adult already when his journey takes place. It’s about growth, love, discovering what matters, and not letting your fear limit you. Highly similar to the film Stand By Me, there are moments sprinkled throughout, making it clear that this film knows and is okay with its secondary status. Yet, despite this, the film does a good job of showing that oftentimes rites of passage into adulthood can come late.

Joel is a caring, unintentionally funny young man. He was 17 years old when the world changed thanks to the bombs shot at an asteroid approaching Earth, which then rained chemicals down and mutated bugs and cold-blooded creatures, making them larger and deadlier. Joel lives with a colony in an underground bunker and despite wanting to help protect the colony, everyone knows he’s a “liability” because he freezes when faced with danger. This doesn’t change immediately at the start of the story, but Joel has found his girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick) and, with everyone else in his colony paired up, he wants to be with his girlfriend so he announces he is traveling to her colony, which will take a week minimum.

Ariana Greenblatt and Michael Rooker in LOVE AND MONSTERS l Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A film like this will only be as good as the lead we are following and Dylan O’Brien as Joel does a good job carrying LOVE AND MONSTERS. Joel’s fear and discomfort with the outside world is skillfully conveyed. After all, he’s never set foot outside; all he does is draw creatures based on info other colonists give him, cooks a great minestrone, and chats on the radio but he has no firsthand experience. There is a surprising depth in his acting when he talks with others, including a smart, cute dog, Boy, he befriends, and a robot named Mav1s.

When he encounters two survivors on the surface, Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who are heading north to the mountains, they team up for part of the journey. It’s through them and Boy that Joel learns tips, skills, and more info about monsters—like sand gobblers. Michael Rooker is always a joy to see in any film and Ariana Greenblatt is a hilarious edition as Minnow who animatedly enacts what dangers might befall Joel.

The special effects for the monsters are good, though some are scarier than others, particularly if you have a fear of certain creatures. Surprisingly, you easily care about Joel’s mission to reunite with Aimee, but that investment is also thanks to Boy who is so damn smart and adorable. His brief encounter with the robot, Mav1s, is also sweet as they will remind many of Wall-E.

The story isn’t unique per se; however, it’s the characters and the special effects that make the film shine. There are also lessons we can learn as we watch Joel’s growth, from not settling for less than what we deserve and overcoming our fears to accomplish the goals we set. The film is aware of its “coming of age” late status, as evidenced by Joel’s chat with Mav1s and playing “Stand By Me”, but it still manages to deliver. A fun, enjoyable film with loveable characters and, if you want to smile, you won’t regret giving LOVE AND MONSTERS a viewing.

Premiering at home, LOVE AND MONSTERS will be available on October 16, 2020, from Paramount Pictures.

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