By Jacob Sahms
After a giant asteroid crashed toward Earth, and Earth’s nations united to fire missiles at it, and after the missiles destroyed the asteroid but rained down chemicals on all living things, ninety-five percent of the population was killed off by mutated bugs and other mutated live forms. Joel (Dylan O’Brien, Maze Runner, Teen Wolf) provides little additional value to the colony living in the underground bunker in Fairfield, CA, and he often freezes up when he’s scared, so he’s regularly left behind when the bunker’s inhabitants venture out for supplies. But he still pines for his pre-apocalypse girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick, Iron Fist, Game of Thrones, Underwater) to whom he writes undeliverable letters, and one day determines to leave the colony to reconnect with her in Michael Matthews’ 92% fresh horror comedy film Love and Monsters.
Against the recommendations of the leaders of his colony, and against incredible wildlife odds, Joel sets out across the eighty-five-mile gap between the colonies. “Run fast, and try to hide. Don’t fight,” the group recommends, when Joel proves intent on leaving. He emerges from his War of the Worlds/Lost-type bunker to breathe air for the first time in seven years, with a trusty map, a crossbow, and an optimism that defies everything we’ve seen about Joel in the first fifteen minutes of the film. He doesn’t even know which way he is supposed to go from the bunker!
O’Brien plays Joel with a winsome earnestness, providing amusing voiceovers in his “letters” to Aimee. Sure, it’s horrific when a giant toad tries to lasso Joel and eat him, but an adorable dog that Joel creatively names “Boy” comes to his rescue. Together, they are rescued from giant worms by two experts in the apocalypse, Clyde (The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker) and his child companion, Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). Rooker provides some hilarious wisdom (and criticism) in this stage of Joel’s journey, a sort of coming-of-age, survival, romance mash-up, with a dash of monsters thrown in for good measure.
Joel’s vibe is “noble warrior floating on the wings of love,” Clyde tells him, but he tells Joel that journeying out from his colony alone is a “fool’s errand.” Minnow has more common sense in the wild than Joel does, but his new traveling companions are willing to teach him, if he can survive long enough to learn. Together, they teach him about wet socks, what to eat, how to practice firing, what different monsters do, and more.
The integration of human actors and CGI monsters in the outdoors (and indoors) provides a well-made exploration of what our world would look like if the wildlife erupted. Some of the moments have “jump scare” written on them, but the majority of the violence is cartoon in nature. Joel and his compatriots use language that pushes the film into teen/adult range, but the heart behind the movie reminds me of familiar fare like The Princess Bride. After seeing the film, it compares favorably to Max Brailler’s The Last Kids on Earth book (and Netflix) series, with more adult tones around major life themes like loving, loss, and overcoming.
Most of us will never encounter giant worms, radioactive centipedes, or walking zombies (wait, wrong media), but the truth is, we have to navigate the highs and lows, the ins and the outs, the dangers and the safe places, of our lives. We have to discover the sense of ourselves, the image of the imago Dei in us, and we often need people around us to show us the trail markers to get where we need to go, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Along the way, we’ll also navigate losing people who we don’t believe we can live without, find more ways to love in the middle of everything else, and ultimately discover who we’re supposed to be and why God put us here on the Earth.