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How fun can the apocalypse really be? Well, it depends on who is telling the story, as it can either be a dreary and horrific experience that serves as a cautionary tale, or it can be an exciting adventure that reminds us what really matters in life. The adventure on which Michael Matthews' Love and Monsters takes its audience falls into the latter camp, as the tale of a young man looking to reconnect with his past in a monster-ridden landscape combines the thrills of larger than life beasts roaming the world and the heart of an emotionally cathartic journey. While you’ll definitely see some explosions, be prepared to shed some tears as well.

The world as we know it ends in Love and Monsters after a massive asteroid hits the planet and not only decimates life on impact, but also sends hazardous materials into the atmosphere. Just as the human race have erased one threat, another takes its place as animals of all species mutate because of these nasty particles. These events claim the family of Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien) and the the ensuing chaos leaves him separated him from his girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick). Seven years later, the timid Joel has a shot at reuniting with his long lost love. All it’s going to take is an 85 mile journey on foot through the world he’s been hiding from for almost a decade.

A surprising mixture of classic teen comedy and monster fighting action helps Love and Monsters live up to its name.

The formula that Love and Monsters boasts is a mix of harder apocalypse movies with a John Hughes-style love story, and the film nails the combination. Trying to survive every beast the world can throw at him, Dylan O’Brien’s protagonist never loses his sense of wonder, nor does he waiver from his romantic quest. Joel is the cipher the audience through the majority of Love and Monsters’ main adventure, and what happens throughout lives and dies by how much you can buy into his ultimate mission. The film succeeds to a surprising degree.

While offering no shortage of creatures with unique abilities and motivations, Love and Monsters also gives the audience a variety of human characters to follow with similar success. In particular, the section of the film that shows our hero learning the ropes from a grizzled but lovable hunter (Michael Rooker) and his young, equally sharp accomplice (Arianna Greenblatt) layers on more emotional and comedic context to Joel’s eventual evolution as a capable hero. Don’t think it’s all teary moments with robotic appliances and jokes about food theft, as the movie doesn’t forget to give viewers a glimpse into a world that still has depths left to discover.

The world is so grand in scope you’re going to really miss movie theaters watching Love And Monsters.

Both in terms of its characters and the creatures they battle, Love and Monsters presents itself a film so grand in scope, it really should be seen on the big screen. Watching this particular movie unfold, it can’t be denied that this was created for the theatrical experience, and perhaps with a potential for 3D thrills added in for extra flavor. The creature designs presented throughout are unique, showcasing everything from small pesky leeches to a gigantic mutated crab that somehow still manages to look cute.

While you’re going to want to watch Love and Monsters on as large of a screen as you can muster, the thrills and the heart present in director Michael Matthews’ motion picture still scale well in the privacy of one’s home. Dylan O’Brien’s down to earth hero helps make sure of that, as he grounds the massive playgrounds of destruction, and its citizens both good and bad, with unwavering heart. Still, everything you see is begging to go to the silver screen, and one can only hope that when major theatrical exhibition starts to pick up again, Love and Monsters could be a title that theaters use to help in their reopening push.

At the core of Love and Monsters is a very human message.

While it’s a relatively short film, Love and Monsters never takes its medium or its message for granted. It’s a fun adventure that serves a perfect distraction from the world outside, yet the heart of Joel’s quest for love, and his development as someone that can take care of themselves and others, is a very human endgame that makes for even more interesting viewing. That humanity connects our hero to all of the spectacle we see him encounter all the more, and it’s what makes this movie even more unexpected, as it’s been marketed as a thrill-a-minute comedy.

Love and Monsters is one of the best surprises of 2020, as it delivers a unique and exciting world and cares about its characters and beasts equally. You might feel at home with the story that’s being told, and some of the twists will be easy to spot, for sure. But that’s part of the charm, as the familiar collides with the thrill and beauty of the landscape that this potential franchise starter explores. If you're a fan of the How To Train Your Dragon series, but you’re in the mood for something with a little more mature sensibility, this adventure is one you should definitely go on.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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