Sometimes a nod and a wink are all you need to craft a successfully charming and worthwhile new spin on a familiar genre. Love and Monsters starring Dylan O'Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, and directed by Michael Matthews treads a lot of familiar ground already explored and mapped out by other post-apocalyptic horror movies, shows, and video games. But even with a heavy sense of familiarity, there's still something fresh and fun about this coming-of-age monster comedy making it worth the journey. Paramount Pictures delivers an overall terrific 4K UHD Blu-ray & Blu-ray Release. The 4K disc is a visual feast with a splendid Dolby Vision HDRwhile the Blu-ray offers fans a solid transfer and shares the same decent if not quite as effective DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio as the Atmos mix that runs with the iTunes digital streaming version. Don't dismiss Love and Monsters outright, it's a good slab of fun - Recommended
Love and Monsters was also released in a single-disc Blu-ray + Digital set. A/V quality coverage can be found in this review.
1/5/2021 Update: This review has been updated for clarity regarding the Atmos Audio review - it is not on disc and seems to be only available with the iTunes digital release.
After the world fired all of its rockets and missiles at an impending earth-destroying asteroid to successfully blow it up, the fallout returning to the planet all but wipes out humanity. Not because humans turn into flesh-eating zombies or kills us from mass radiation poisoning but because all of the insect and amphibian animal life mutated into giant monsters that see humans as pretty tasty treats! After hunkering in a bunker for the last seven years, Joel (Dylan O'Brien) is stuck with a band of survivors who seem to have moved on without him pairing up but also able to protect the colony in ways Joel just can't match. When he learns that his teenage love Aimee (Jessica Henwick) is only 80 miles away and with nothing else to lose, Joel sets out to reclaim his lost love. If he doesn't die on the way by giant toads, underground killer worms, or other horrifying monsters - he just might learn something about himself.
I readily admit to falling into the claptrap of judging a book by its cover, or in the case of Love and Monsters - by its trailer. When the trailers for Love and Monsters started arriving with increasing frequency as COVID was forcing studios to rethink their distribution options, I kept seeing them and just wasn't taken in by what I saw. From the previews, Love and Monsters just looked like another Zombieland rehash. And it kind of is, but it's also picking snippets and ideas from all entries in the massive Post-Apocalyptic sci-fi and fantasy genre. Yeah, there are tastes of Zombieland, but you also get some elements of The Walking Dead, The Mist, Resident Evil (movies and games), and video game entries like Monster Hunter, Just Cause, The Last of Us, and Fallout. Heck, there's even a sequence borrowed from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that's a fun nod and wink but also still manages to be pretty damn suspenseful! All of these little elements are wrapped up and applied to a Youth Coming of Age structure.
And it works. Thanks to some smart writing from Brian Duffield and co-writer/director Michael Matthews, Love and Monsters proved to be a successful journey. There aren't really any plot surprises here, you can feel the twists and turns a mile off - especially a third-act twist - but it's how the script handles the material and O'Brien in the lead that makes this beast work. O'Brien is on his own for much of the movie either talking to himself or the dog he adopts along the way. While the artwork and trailer heavily showcased the always welcome Michael Rooker - it doesn't hinge on his presence. I could happily watch a movie of Rooker knocking off monsters with his adoptive daughter pal, but this show wisely keeps the focus on this one person's journey.
It's Joel's journey that offers a compelling reason to keep going. If you think about it, the idea of the weakest member of the colony who freezes under pressure isn't the one to be voted "Most Likely To Survive" - but he's also the one with the most room to grow. There's a great scene where Joel encounters a working Mav1s colony robot voiced by Melanie Zanetti - something I loved seeing after spending too many hours of my life playing through the Fallout games. It's not only a nice moment of reflection for Joel, but the bluntness of the robot innocently reminding him of the peril he faces sums up the vibe of the movie:
Like I said at the outset, Love and Monsters may not be the best thing ever made. Aside from the creative monster designs - and some of them are quite creepy - this isn't the most original idea ever ether. Play enough video games and watch enough movies and you find the pieces that make up this film. But that's okay. This movie is such a delightful nod and a wink to the genre as a whole that there's a lot to enjoy about it. It's easy to see where this movie s going, but getting there is still worth the time you put into it. In the middle of the dark and dreary winter days hunkered in your home trying to avoid a plague, Love and Monsters is the perfect humorously ironic companion to divert two hours of your attention. I'm not sure how repeat viewings will roll over time, but for the here and now, it's great entertainment worth jumping in for.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray & 1080p Blu-ray
Love and Monsters arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray in a two-disc + digital set from Paramount Pictures. Both discs are housed in a standard sturdy black 4K two-disc case with identical slipcover, each disc getting its own tray without being stacked. The 4K UHD Blu-ray disc loads to Paramount's traditional static image main menu with traditional navigation options. The 1080p Blu-ray disc loads to a similar-looking static image main menu but offers all of the bonus features not found on the 4K disc. The included digital copy is not Movies Anywhere compatible and can only be redeemed on iTunes, Vudu, or Fandango now. I tried the iTunes for this and was pleasantly surprised with an Atmos audio mix instead of the DTS-HD MA 7.1 which will be detailed below.
The 4K UHD Blu-ray:
I wasn't able to find full tech specs about this film's origins beyond being shot digitally, but given the only slight improvement from 1080p to 2160p in terms of clarity - I'm assuming this disc is an upscaled 4K and not native. That isn't a bad thing at all mind you, there are some notable differences between presentations, but it's not the leaps and bounds in image detail that a true Native 4K transfer would probably offer up. To that point, it's the close-ups and middle-ground material that pops the most. Small details in the production design benefit from that little extra refinement. There are some practical effects creatures that really look cool with that small extra detail punch and HDR, but on the other hand, there are a few digital effects that now stand out as more obvious. It's a little win some lose some on that end as is the case with a number of modest budget CGI effects-heavy films out there.
Where this presentation wins is with the Dolby Vision HDR application. This was already a dark and somewhat dreary movie - especially the opening scenes in the bunker - and Dolby Vision greatly enhances those black levels, shadows, and the impact of light spacing. The Mav1s robot's eyes gain extra luminance and refined spectral qualities in the dark scene at the motel. When the Sky Jellies arrive it's another beautiful colorful scene with excellent black levels and shadows. Contrast is also greatly improved here, there are a few sequences on the 1080p Blu-ray that felt really white-hot - when Joel is poisoned and hallucinating or the final beach fight that had extra blooming but was tamped back and more natural feeling with the Dolby Vision HDR pass. This may not be the best all be all 4K UHD Blu-ray presentation out there, but it's very good at what it does offer. 4.5/5
The 1080p SDR Blu-ray:
Judging from the detail levels between the two presentations I'm fairly confident that this film was finished on a 2K Digital Intermediate. There's just not a huge difference between this 1080p presentation and the 4K UHD Blu-ray presentation. If you're only on 1080p HD at the moment, this is a perfectly good transfer. You have robust details, excellent color pop, and some nice deep black levels. There are a couple of sequences where I felt like the true deep inky blacks took on a more murky brownish/green quality - those early scenes in the bunker where Joel tries to confront the ant-monster thing didn't quite resonate as strongly in that department as the 4K disc. Once Joel gets topside and the film is mostly all outdoors - it looks terrific. The bright sunlight locations let the colors shine. It's not as strong as the 4K without the benefit of HDR and the added bitrate breathing room, but it holds nicely. 4/5
The 4K UHD Blu-ray and 1080p SDR Blu-ray:
For reasons I can't seem to figure, instead of carrying over the same great Atmos mix, the 4K UHD Blu-ray and 1080p Blu-ray is given an impressive in its own right DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix. Overall this is a great track mimicking the best aspects of the Atmos track - but it feels a bit more cramped. With DTS Neural:X turned on it does a solid job of filling out all of those channels and adding a little space to the pallet, but it doesn't quite feel as refined. Dialog is still strong and key sound effects have a great impact with some decent LFE, but I kept feeling like it was pulled back. I felt like I needed to turn my volume up past my normal listening range to get some of the same oomph. I'm sure I would feel more impressed by this mix if it was the only one available or if I had started here instead of the 4K disc. Overall it does its job well, but knowing the Atmos mix is available, it made me wish that was carried over to this disc as well. 4.5/5
The 4K UHD iTunes Movies Streaming - Atmos:
The 4K Ultra HD Streaming release of Love and Monsters on iTunes offers up a terrific Dolby Atmos audio mix that is often fully utilized with a terrific array of surround and height effects. As far as covering the basics, dialog is crystal clear and never overpowered by score or creepy creature sound effects. Right out of the gate this mix makes great use of the extra spacing and object placement. When that first monster breaches Joel's bunker and he tries to man up and kill it, the creepy chortling sound it makes moves around the side and rear channels until he's face to face with it and as it rises up the sound moves up the height channels. That's just one great moment and this film is filled with scenes like that. A scene that feels ripped from The Fellowship of the Ring where Joel and his dog Boy hide in a tree stump from a large creature is another great example of the sound effect moving along the channels before it's even on the screen. The Marco Beltrami and Marcus Trumpp score is solid material fitting the mood of the film nicely and then punching the lower registers when necessary. There's also some great LFE when some of the more lethal monsters attack adding a lot of excitement to the mix for an otherwise fairly cheerful sounding film. The big action finale is a highlight combining all of the best elements of this track for a lot of punch. 5/5
Unfortunately, Love and Monsters doesn't come packed with a full assortment of bonus features to pick through. Most of the meat is found in the deleted scenes that were pretty cool - but easy to understand why they were cut. For almost 12-minutes of content, they do feel extraneous and in the context of the scenes and where they fit in the story would have just slipped up the pacing. Cool to see, but also understandable why they were cut. The rest of the material is mostly EPK fluff that doesn't really cover a lot of ground. All of the bonus features are found on the SDR Blu-ray disc.
Love and Monsters may not be the most original spin on the post-apocalyptic genre, but combined within the framework of a coming to age movie and some really inventive world design work, it's a worthwhile adventure. The cast is great with Dylan O'Brien leading most of the show on his own. The visual effects are solid and the creatures really inventive with fun energy. It's low-key entertainment that plays with a lot of conventions and has a great time doing it. Not the greatest film ever made, but if you've been stuck indoors for a long time it provides some much-needed escapism.
Paramount Pictures delivers Love and Monsters to 4K UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray with excellent results for both discs. While the 4K UHD Blu-ray is the superior presentation thanks to Dolby Vision HDR, the 1080p SDR Blu-ray holds its own offering up a strong A/V presence as well. If you're rolling with AppleTV, the iTunes Movies release punches out a nifty Atmos mix. So weigh your options there. If you're rocking 4K, that's the best way to go, but if you're happy with standard Blu-ray, you should be happy with the results here as well. It's a fun movie well worth checking out. The trailers didn't wow me but I'm glad I gave it a shot. Put a big smile on my face when I needed it most. Recommended.