‘Love and Monsters’ offers just right amount of thrills for Halloween treat

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Image used with permission from Jasin Boland/Paramount Pictures

Joel (Dylan O’Brien, “The Education of Frederick Fitzell”) confronts Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt, “The One and Only Ivan”) about his decision to leave her and Clyde (Michael Rooker, “The Dark Tower”) to reunite with his girlfriend in Paramount Pictures’ “Love and Monsters” released Oct. 16. Originally, the film was scheduled for a Feb. 12, 2021 release under the name “Monster Problems.”

Hope Li

A hybrid of “Jurassic World” with its giant dinos and “The Maze Runner” with its pandemic-induced plot, “Love and Monsters” offers viewers a fast-paced adventure and a fresh take on the importance of family and taking risks for love — and for oneself.

With this premise, the PG-13-rated Paramount Studios film released earlier this month as a video on demand stands dangerously close to being an overly cliche teenage flick, but its creative perspective ultimately saves it.

Originally named “Monster Problems,” Paramount had scheduled to release the nearly two-hour flick as part of a Valentine’s Day feature in theaters on Feb. 12, 2021, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“Given the demand for new, high-quality entertainment right now, Paramount has decided to release ‘Love and Monsters’ widely on digital platforms,” Paramount’s chief operating officer Andrew Gumpert told the Reporter.

Paramount also makes the right move in making “Love and Monsters” available Oct. 16 as it can serve as a Halloween treat for those looking for some scares and thrills amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of a viral pandemic, this film starts with a voiceover from protagonist Joel Dawson (Dylan O’Brien, “The Education of Frederick Fitzell”), who explains the origin story of his apocalyptic world. Nations worldwide have banded together to exterminate a comet threatening to destroy the Earth. But after nuclear weapons decimate the rock, the consequent radiation drops back down from space, leading to mutated insects, reptiles and amphibians and enlarging not only their sizes, but their carnivorous appetites.

The gruesome creatures (think giant snails, centipedes and toads) become predators as we learn later on from flashbacks how Dawson’s parents are killed off and how survivors end up leaving their homes and living in underground bunkers known as colonies to stay alive.

At once, viewers who watched O’Brien star in “The Maze Runner” will recognize the similarities in the post-apocalyptic setting between the two films.

Flash forward seven years later. Dawson begins to reminisce about former girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick, “On the Rocks”), a relationship he had pre-nuking of the comet, and decides to travel to her colony 85 miles away since he feels useless where he’s at — he’s afraid to shoot and kill mutated invaders, and his only chore is cooking canned minestrone.

Hence the hero’s journey begins for Dawson.

Director Michael Matthews (“The Story of ‘72”) relies on cliche allies for Dawson in the form of a dog, generically named Boy, two outliers Clyde (Michael Rooker, “The Dark Tower) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt “The One and Only Ivan”) who agree to train Dawson about how to protect himself on land amid the giant animals.

[“Love and Monsters”] stands dangerously close to being an overly cliche teenage flick, but its creative perspective ultimately saves it.”

— Hope Li

Similar to the “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World” film series, viewers learn through the main characters that not all the mutated creatures want to eat humans. And like many people in “The Maze Runner,” all three — four, including the dog — have lost family members; Minnow, who is 8 years old, even has arrows and a pink bow to go with them (a nod to the older Katniss Everdeen from “Hunger Games”?) .

With this shared sorrow, Matthews connects the fast-paced film with universal regret, regardless of whether that guilt expands to not saving loved ones from man-eating insects.

The director even cleverly includes artificial intelligence but in a softer light with MAV1S (Melanie Zanetti, “Bluey”), an artificially, emotionally and academically intelligent humanoid robot. When Joel encounters a rare one whose power sources haven’t yet depleted, the experience shows a more comfortable and touching side of AI than in today’s tech world of shifty privacy concerns.

Expect an effective comedic break here as well — no spoilers here.

“Love and Monsters” continues fast-paced until the almost-end, when the audience discovers whether his journey to find true love proves worthy.

The jumpscares involving effectively realistic and disgusting CGI creatures add to the thriller and balance the comedic breaks and hilarious running gags throughout the film. (For the last time, Dawson has never stolen any food from any of the colonies.)

Despite Joel’s cheesy closing message, the satisfying, bittersweet ending and the unique approach on the cliche theme makes up for it. Dropping everything for love and taking risks appears in “Frozen,” “The Little Mermaid” and even “Crazy Rich Asians” but never in a post-apocalyptic world with mutated creepy crawlies.

According to Paramount’s website, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, VUDU, Google Play, Microsoft and Fandango Now all carry the movie. Certain theaters such as Starlight Cinema City Theater in Anaheim are showing the film as well.