Review: Keep your socks dry. That is a rule of survival in Michael Matthews’ irreverent post-apocalyptic romp, which relegates humans to the bottom of the food chain after the chemical fallout from a rocket salvo to blow up a planet-killing asteroid mutates harmless critters into gargantuan, flesh-hungry predators. Love And Monsters wedges tongue firmly in cheek as an unlikely 20-something hero with a “pretty severe freezing problem” embarks on a suicide mission through hostile territory to reunite with his high school crush. En route, he encounters a dazzling menagerie of supersized bugs, insects and amphibians, brought vividly to life by Oscar-nominated special effects that keep our adrenaline pumping in breathlessly staged action sequences above and below terra firma.
Dylan O’Brien oozes likeability and charm as the weakling adventurer, drawing on the athleticism from the Maze Runner films and the deadpan dorkiness he honed during six series of supernatural TV drama Teen Wolf. “That was awesome, I feel like Tom Cruise,” he caterwauls after one explosive close encounter with a worm-like predator called a sand gobbler. Scriptwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson borrow liberally from I Am Legend, A Quiet Place, Tremors and Zombieland for family-friendly scares and they shamelessly leaf through the playbook of Pixar computer-animated weepie Up for a satisfying pluck of the heartstrings.
Sixteen-year-old Joel Dawson (O’Brien) and sweetheart Aimee (Jessica Henwick) are poised to consummate their relationship when their California home of Fairfield becomes ground zero for the apocalypse. Joel’s parents (Andrew Buchanan, Tandi Wright) perish in the chaotic exodus and the grief-stricken teen seeks refuge in a subterranean bunker populated by romantic couples having vigorous sex. “It’s kind of what I imagine college would have been like,” he quips in voiceover. After seven years cowering in fear, Joel plucks up the courage to run the gauntlet of flesh-hungry beasties above ground to reunite with Aimee.
“There’s only one person in this world who made me truly happy and she’s 85 miles away so I’m gonna go!” he proudly informs his incredulous campmates. Armed with a measly crossbow and sarcasm, Joel blunders towards Aimee’s beachside colony and encounters a dog named Boy, a grizzled survival expert (Michael Rooker) and his sassy eight-year-old surrogate daughter (Ariana Greenblatt), who impart valuable lessons – listen to your instincts, non-hostile creatures have kind eyes – that serve the lovesick hero well on his noble quest.
Love And Monsters is a freewheeling delight, anchored by O’Brien’s endearing lead performance that balances humour and heartfelt emotion including a lovely interlude with a dying robot (voiced by Melanie Zanetti) bathed in the glow of bioluminescent jellyfish-like creatures. Familiar end-of-the-world tropes are polished to a crowd-pleasing lustre by the impressive visual wizardry and director Matthews keeps the pace brisk and the tone predominantly breezy. Put on a pair of dry socks and enjoy the ride.
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Review: The soundtrack to modern life for some of us is an unfinished symphony of background noise layered with indistinct voices, electrical whirrs, musical refrains and occasional percussive thuds, crashes and wallops. Seldom can we submerge in absolute silence to focus intently on uncluttered thoughts, tendons straining or the rhythmic pulse of blood pumping around our bodies. Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Sound Of Metal employs thrillingly immersive sound design to convey the inner turmoil of a musician faced with a diagnosis of acute hearing loss. Intentional muffling and abrupt changes in pitch and volume within a scene, enriched with a minimalist score, embolden a deeply visceral cinematic experience that reminds us of the things we might take for granted or simply filter out.
An uncompromising lead performance from London-born actor Riz Ahmed, Oscar-nominated alongside co-star Paul Raci, invigorates director Darius Marder’s hard-hitting drama co-written by his brother Abraham. Relying increasingly on facial expressions and gestures, Ahmed chisels away at his character’s bullish bravado and denial to give us a palpable sense of the snarling rage, suffocating fear and frustration of a recovering addict, who resists letting go of his drumsticks and everything they symbolise. The sadness when he finally acknowledges all he must sacrifice to protect himself and the person he loves is crushing.
Heavily tattooed drummer Ruben (Ahmed) and singer-guitarist girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) are touring America in an old Airstream trailer as the punk-metal band Blackgammon when Ruben experiences ringing in his ears and then muffled quietness. A doctor (Tom Kemp) conducts urgent tests, which reveal Ruben is registering less than 30% of spoken words. “Your first priority is to preserve the hearing you have,” explains the medic, who advises Ruben to eliminate exposure to loud noises, effectively ending his music career.
Health insurance doesn’t cover expensive cochlear implants and Ruben teeters on the brink of a downward spiral into drug abuse after four years of hard-fought sobriety. His erratic and destructive behaviour also risks triggering Lou, who self-harms. Ruben begrudgingly enrols in a residential programme for deaf recovering addicts run by Vietnam War veteran Joe (Raci), who expects the new arrival to learn American Sign Language and acknowledge that being deaf is not a handicap. “Those moments of stillness… that’s the kingdom of God. That place will never abandon you,” tenderly preaches Joe.
Bookended by a crashing drum cymbal and peeling church bells, Sound Of Metal beautifully illuminates Ruben’s anguished odyssey from denial to acceptance in the warming embrace of the deaf community. Sentimental riffs composed around a schoolteacher (Lauren Ridloff) and her class of cherubic moppets creep into the second half but Ahmed and co-star Raci don’t strike a single false note.
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