Despite how things may look from a cinematic perspective, there have been a number of reputable films released this year. In fact, one of the best things to come out of reduced access to theaters is an increase in access to movies. Now, perhaps more than ever, the limitations of in-person viewing have been by-passed (albeit not perfectly) so that films large and small are more available to audiences. Because of that influx of access, there is difficulty parsing the good from the bad, or, in some cases, what looks good versus what looks bad. One such film you might have overlooked during its VOD/digital release in October 2020 is the Michael Matthews-directed coming-of-age sci-fi action-comedy hybrid Love and Monsters, which, at the time of this writing, is sitting in the #51 spot of my favorite list of films from 2020. The premise is straight-forward (in post-apocalypse world, a twenty-something ventures into a monster-filled landscape to reunite with his girlfriend after seven years apart) but the execution reveals countless layers of depth and complexity, resulting in an adventure that is, at once, both hilarious and heartfelt while also profoundly life-affirming. With Love and Monsters releasing on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD January 5th, 2021, you can join our hero on his quest as often as you please.
In a moment of global unity, the world’s nations sent their missiles to the sky in a last ditch effort to save humanity from an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Though the mission succeeds, there is unexpected fallout from the collective munition: all the animals and insects are mutated into various terrible, people-eating monsters, forcing humanity to flee and hide. In the seven years, 95% of humanity is gone and those that remain exist within small communities inside bunkers, only going out when in need of supplies. For Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) that means never going out due to his crippling fear every time he’s in proximity of any of the creatures. This changes, however, when he makes contact with his former girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) and decides he’s going to travel the 85 miles that separates them — alone and on foot.
To learn about Love and Monsters without spoilers, head over to the original VOD release review. If you’d like to learn about what’s included on the home release without learning anything, jump past the image of Dylan O’Brien’s Joel and his canine companion.
During a fabulous interview with producer Shawn Levy conducted by CinemaBlend’s Mike Reyes, Levy explains that through the years of development, there’s one scene from which the whole movie revolves. If you’ve seen the film and it resonated with you as it did this reviewer, then you won’t be shocked to learn it was the scene when Joel encounters a working Mav1s robot. Not only is it shot beautifully by cinematographer Lachlan Milne (Minari/Hunt for the Wilderpeople), capturing the majesty and wonder of a post-apocalyptic world where purple luminescent sky jellies (think mutated jellyfish) in a soft, warm hue, but the engagement between Joel and Mav1s brings to the front exactly what the film is about: Joel’s desperate need for human connection and personal healing. In the interview, Levy remarks, “ … that’s the irony. The most emotional scene in the movie is with a robot.” While certainly ironic, it’s no less powerful, evoking tears from this reviewer not just the first time, but yes, even on repeat viewings. See, the logline of the film makes Love and Monsters seem like your average coming-of-age comedies with an apocalyptic spin. Looking deeper, however, reveals something undeniably human and necessary in our pandemic times. Joel is in the film as loving and amiable, but absolutely terrified of facing the creatures. It’s not because he doesn’t want to face them, he quite literally freezes up. Why does he do that? Well, if it were you or me staring down a frog as big as a SUV who’s looking at you (me) with hungry eyes, being scared stiff makes a great deal of sense. For Joel, though, it’s not just his fear that freezes him, it’s his trauma, a trauma that the audience is given small pieces of until this scene with Mav1s. Here, everything is peeled back as Joel gets the first look at his parents in seven years and we’re invited to see that not only did they die that first day but right in front of him as they were trapped in a car yelling for him to run. It’s here that we, the audience, realize that Joel doesn’t freeze because he’s scared, it’s more than that. He’s literally brought back to that moment when he was helpless to save his parents, terrified and confused on what to do. Up until this moment, he likely didn’t even realize it himself, which is why after this scene Joel becomes a bit more proactive in his survival. This scene happens maybe an hour into the 108 minute film and, without it, the whole of Love and Monsters would be decidedly weaker. Some time prior to this sequence, Joel is rescued by two other survivors, Minnow and Clyde (Ariana Greenblatt and Michael Rooker), and, in a moment of bonding over their losses, Clyde says, “We all have stories like this, don’t we.” Coming from Rooker’s typical gruff delivery, you might think that Clyde is blowing off Joel’s sentimentality. Instead, this line and the weight Rooker’s places on the delivery speaks to what the world is for all of them: a shared pain. With the scene with Mav1s, that notion of communal and personal pain is firmly anchored, at once devastating the audience while managing to uplift us. Perhaps it’s the mix of staging, cinematography, puppeteering for Mav1s, O’Brien’s performance, and the dulcet tones of Ben E. King singing “Stand By Me,” but that scene is just the best part of the film (especially when there are so many fantastic parts) narratively and thematically.
One other aspect that uplifts the material is the decision to make Joel’s journey appear like the typical white knight story only to have it be, mostly, for naught. AND Joel doesn’t put the onus on Amiee. At. All. As an audience with centuries of stories like this one, we’ve been trained to believe that the hero who journeys to reunite with his lost love will find her with open arms, having dutifully waited for him all seven years. This isn’t that and the story is made so much better for it. Screenwriters Brian Duffield (equally amazing Spontaneous) and Matthew Robinson (Monster Trucks) skip the romance that propels the narrative without sacrificing an ounce of emotional heft *or* shifting the momentum of the story. MOST impressively, when Joel puts forward to Aimee that he traveled the distance to be with her and she rejects his advance with a large dose of reality, he gets frustrated with himself for being so unaware. The absolute genius of it! With this choice, Aimee ceases to be an object and becomes a person, one with agency and dominion over her body. Frankly, I haven’t seen something so brilliantly handled in cinema since Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) which contains its own romance within an apocalypse subnarrative that is dispelled as quickly and is handled maturely. Women are not possessions, trinkets to be won in battle. Just because Joel traveled across as Monster World doesn’t mean he’s owed so much as a kiss from Aimee and the fact that the film makes a point of addressing this without damaging the momentum of the story is worthy of applause. Like threading a needle through water, one might say.
With any home release, there is always the question of fidelity and I’m here to give you the good news: Love and Monsters is absolutely solid. Compared to the stream I used to review the VOD release, the 4K UHD disc offers superior sound (7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) that felt enveloping, making the experience far more immersive. The HDR included not only punches up the wonder of the sky jellies sequence through the greater range of purples, but amps up the danger in the early bunker attack as the difference between light and dark is far more natural. Frankly, the sense of falseness I noticed in the VOD review with the CG is lessened in this case as the scene with the roach-caterpillar hybrid appears far more tangible than before. Whether that’s because the 4K disc contains the uncompressed version of the film (versus VOD or digital streaming’s compressed version) or just the higher resolution image, the noticeable separation between CG and practical effects are better blended in both the daytime and nighttime sequences.
Having written about the fantastic performances and direction before, I’ll skip that bit and jump into the bonus features. What’s included in the home release is skimpy in volume, but loaded with goodies. First, you’ve got nearly 12 minutes of deleted scenes that offer extended or alternate scenes that allow opportunities to get to know other characters (like Pachard Mzembe’s Ray in the bunker) or monsters Joel crosses along his journey. The good stuff, though, is in the two-part behind the scenes exploration of the film, each averaging seven minutes in length. The first, “Bottom of the Food Chain: The Cast of Love and Monsters,” offers insight from director Matthews, producer Levy, and members of the cast, as you’d expect, but it also includes lead dog trainer Zelie Bullen talking about the two dogs used in the film and the difficulties of some of the tasks (like pulling on a person’s pant leg) which they had not done before and the strong bond lead dog Hero formed with O’Brien during the shoot. If you love dogs, seeing Boy in action both charmed and terrified, given the trials Boy and Joel faced, so learning that O’Brien and his canine scene partner grew close is particularly charming. If you dig on Love and Monsters because of the mutations, then “It’s a Monster’s World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape” is where you’re really going to get excited. In this portion, Milne really gets to shine as he discusses how they utilized the Australian landscape to create a post-apocalypse California and the ways in which he framed his approach to lighting. Additionally, you get to hear from head of creature FX Steven Doyle and production designer Dan Hannah, where you learn about some of the mythology of Love and Monsters that makes everything in the film feel tangible and authentic. This includes a tour of both Joel’s and Aimee’s bunkers and how the cove seen in the climax is created out of a park. What’s particularly surprising in this featurette is how little time is spent exploring creature design and creation. Considering the impressiveness of the creature design in the film, it’d be nice to have gotten more details on that.
Love and Monsters Special Features
- Six (6) Deleted Scenes
- Bottom of the Food Chain: The Cast of Love and Monsters (7:44)
- It’s a Monster’s World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape (7:04)
Available on VOD and digital October 16th, 2020.
Available on 4K UHD, Bluray, and DVD January 5th, 2020.