Grade: A-/B+
Sci-fi/Fantasy Adventure
Rated PG-13

Love and Monsters has a lot in common with 2009’s Zombieland, except that the post-apocalyptic plague that threatens surviving humans in this 2020 film consists of mutated monster-size insects and toads and such, rather than a viral-induced plague of zombies. Both are post-apocalyptic coming-of-age films.

Instead of an unproven and unsure-of-himself teen trying to get to his family in Ohio, Love and Monsters features an unproven and unsure-of-himself young adult (Dylan O’Brien)—more sensitive artist than warrior. After everyone in his survivor group had paired off romantically, Joel decides to leave the bunker and trek the “surface” for seven days to find the girlfriend he had acquired just as the catastrophe had struck seven years ago.

Instead of meeting and joining forces with a mentor who was an expert zombie killer in search of the last Twinkies on Earth (as Jesse Eisenberg’s character did), Joel meets up with a grizzled survivor (Dan Ewing) who has been living on the surface with an adopted young girl called Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). One quester learned the secrets of zombie killing and survival in a zombie world, while the other learns how to stay alive in a world filled with monsters that can attack at any moment.

Although Zombieland and Love and Monsters are both quest/survival stories involving a likable young male character, there is one important difference for families to note: Zombieland was rated R for horror violence/gore, while Love and Monsters is rated PG-13 for action/violence, language, and some suggestive material. The latter feels like a hero’s journey through a fantasy land filled with the kind of fantastic creatures one saw in films based on J.K. Rowling books, while the former features humans turning into zombies and then having to be killed. But visually they’re still humans, and as a result it feels more like killing than it does to eliminate an enormous and enormously fantastic monster. Plus, Zombieland was all about finding creative (and graphic) ways to kill zombies. It had a Whack-a-Mole feel to it, having more in common with slasher-horror movies than anything else. But the focus in Love and Monsters is more on Joel’s own survival and his quest for love. Love and Monsters feels like a fun monster movie, with a scarier Alice in Wonderland feel to it, which makes Love and Monsters more suitable for a younger audience—say, 8 years and up?

And let’s talk about those monsters. They’re varied and imaginative enough to where you do get that post-apocalyptic Wonderland vibe, and the CGI renditions and action animation are so good that you buy the whole package. Whether it’s a gigantic toad-like creature that lumbers along but has a tongue that zips out to pull things toward it or a burrowing insect larva that plows rapidly underground toward victims like a shark fin skimming the surface of the ocean, it’s all terribly tense and convincing, especially in HD and with an immersive 7-channel soundtrack.

Fun, too. From the very first wave of Universal monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, monster pics have been on the fun side of scary movies, while horror has always been darker. The monsters in Love and Monsters may be menacing, but they’re also as flat-out fun to watch as some of the old Ray Harryhausen creatures. In fact, when someone wields a weapon that looks like a trident against a gigantic crab on a beach, it’s so evocative of Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island monster that it has to be a homage.

There are also positive messages to be found in Love and Monsters, not the least of which are determination and rising to the challenge, doing what has to be done. Joel finds a dog along the way, and there’s also a message here about the importance of family, whatever shape that family takes and whether that family is blood-related or makeshift.

Entire family: No—perhaps age 8 and older?
Run time: 109 min., Color
Studio/Distributor: Paramount
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Amazon link
Rated PG-13 for action/violence, language, and some suggestive material

Language: 2/10—I really can’t remember much in the way of swearing; I’m sure there must have been some mild swearwords, but they were not prominent

Sex: 2/10—one scene of legs entwined in a bed, another intimate embrace, and some kisses between teens, none of it extended and none of it revealing

Violence: 5/10—mostly fantasy violence, with monsters being fought and killed or driven off; the most graphic scenes involve a Stand by Me leech scene homage and blood on the mouth of a monster who had been shown from a distance devouring people

Adult situations: 3/10—some drinking and one party scene that’s right out of Odysseus as people get drunk

Takeaway: A part of me that hopes a sequel will never happen because, let’s face it: you only come of age once, even in a post-apocalyptic world