Love and Monsters
If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.
The screenplay is credited to Brian Duffield, whose idea it was (also the quite decent Underwater) and Matthew Robinson (er, The Invention of Lying), and it’s fairly light on its feet. However, I suspect it’s Matthews who really sets the tone, delivering zesty charm amid the tense incidents of Joel Dawson’s (Dylan O’Brien) odyssey, as he attempts to traverse the eighty miles from his underground bunker to the settlement housing his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick), from whom he was separated seven years earlier when the apocalypse struck.
It’s thus a plot structure with considerable room for cramming in whatever comes to mind, Odysseus-like. Joel is an irrepressibly positive character despite his being entirely useless – he freezes – whenever confronted by the planet’s population of now overgrown and carnivorous cold-blooded creatures. For the most part, Matthews martials the CGI creatively and seamlessly; we aren’t talking quite Blomkamp standards, but there’s a very good reason this was nominated for Best Visual Effects Oscar.
And by opting for an inept hero who must overcome his fears and learn he isn’t entirely incompetent, Love and Monsters offers some territory less travelled these days. O’Brien is almost thirty playing a half decade younger – he could pass for sixteen and is about that in the flashback – and one of those faces that’s easy to mix up: with the Percy Jackson guy or, going back a few years, the Joshua Jackson one (who, notably, was also associated with Dawsons, of the Creek variety). He’s guilelessly likeable, and this may help him prove there’s life after Maze Runner, but he’s going to have to play bona-fide adults at some point soon.
He certainly fares better than Henwick, Mary Sue-ing it in the most ultra-capable way with the best – or worst – of them. It’s inevitable as soon as Joel sets off to reconnect with his love that she’ll have moved on (although, the movie leaves things open). How could she not? She’s a Mary Sue! Far more promising are his encounters en route. Michael Rooker’s survivalist, accompanied by ward Ariana Greenblatt (who develops a crush on Joel). A robot (Mav1) powering down and evidencing that, in this world at least, transhumanism is out on its ear.
Best of all, though, and the true star of the movie, is Boy (played by Hero and Dodge), the dog Joel befriends – or is it the other way round? – and who is his most stalwart and true companion. It’s a perfectly-pitched relationship, and crucially, it’s between a human and an actual dog (eat that, Call of the Wild).
What is there to be learned from the nature of this apocalypse, in a predictive-programming sense? The argument would be that all apocalyptic scenarios (in whatever medium) are designed to imprint on us that the end times are inevitably nigh (even if they’re a few years or more round the corner). In this case, it’s the old favourite of the asteroid (so reliant on the globe earth/infinite universe model of creation). But Agatha 616 doesn’t flatten everyone. Or worse: were this a Lovecraft scenario, doubtless the asteroid would have released a transformative goo. Here, however, it’s man’s means of dealing with the threat, the rockets sent to destroy it – which do their job – that rain chemical compounds back down on the Earth and transform the creatures (“President killed by Giant Moth”).
So this is your perils-of-science scenario, although it has similar effects to the intentions-of-science of the real world, or the Georgia Guidestones; Love and Monsters posits 95 percent of the human population lost. The creatures are just creatures (you can tell the nice ones by their eyes – “Thank you, Mr Boulder Snail”). But people are invariably still the worst (Dan Ewing’s food stealer pirate captain). Most notably, perhaps, the movie concludes with encouragement to overcome one’s fears, and go out there and face the world. Which, in an age of a populace “stricken” by an invisible peril, is very cogent advice (of course, in an age of shedding, going out and facing the world and mingling with the unsullied may be exactly what the powers that be want next, under the illusion that “it’s all over”). Don’t settle. Not even at the end of the world. Unless it’s for Netflix, presumably.