EVIL is a Giant Cockroach Trying To Bite Your Head Off…Man! “Love and Monsters” reviewed! (Paramount / Blu-ray Review)

For seven years, monsters have ravaged the human race to nearly extinction after nuclear nations destroyed an planet killing meteor in space, but the radioactive debris that fall back to Earth mutated the smallest creatures into monstrous killing machines.  Humans have been divided into colonies forced into underground bunkers.  Joel Dawson has been barely surviving with bunk mates who see him as a liability in his inability to act when faced with a monster situation and has been unable to connect, romantically, with another person.  When Joel discovers his high school sweetheart is 85 miles away in another colony, Joel decides to leave the bunker safe haven and journey across the dangerous surface for seven days for the sole purpose of love.  Forced to face his fears and adapt to survive a perilous land full of giant centipedes, hungry massive toads, and a crusty crab the size of a two story building, Joel must rely on his instincts and the help of rule-following topside survivors to see again the girl he thought he lost.

Add “Love and Monsters,” a monstrously romantic creature feature, right up there with “Warm Bodies” as this decade’s version of horror and love dancing the tangled tango in this kill or be eaten comedy-love pursuit directed by Michael Matthews.  The 2020 release is Matthews’ sophomore directorial from a script co-written between Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson off a Duffield’s original “Monster Problems” script.  Duffield is best known for penning last year’s water leviathan success, “Underwater,” starring Kristen Stewart, with “Monster Trucks’” Robinson coming aboard to finesse the grand adventure mechanism that makes “Love and Monsters” a singular trek through heart-thumping terrorland.  The Canadian production filmed in the amalgam terrain of Australia is produced by Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy, who both know a thing or two about doomsday premises in producing Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and the Denis Villeneuve sleeper sci-fi first contact film, “Arrival,” under 21 Laps Entertainment in association with Entertainment One and Paramount Pictures distribution in North America.

A singular journey of bushwhacking and survival falls upon the shoulders of a young man who hasn’t yet transitioned to be an adult. From the time he was 16 years old, Joel Dawson knew love, but didn’t know how to fend for himself when life gets tough….really tough, like, full of carnivorous creatures in an end of humanity and heading to extinction tough. Yet, as adults, we thrive on challenges as our brains have learned to adapt with each new level of adversity and obstacle. For Joel, being stuck in the past, reliving a swift romance, has suspended him in nowheresville as he struggles to find love and age-appropriate interaction with of his kind peers. Dylan O’Brian captures Joel’s inability to see the clearly world around him because, literally, he hasn’t seen or experienced the world for about a third of his young life. Portrayed early on in young adult fiction with his feet firm in the heartthrob remake of “Teen Wolf” television series and coming out of adapted for film “The Maze Runner” trilogy, O’Brien discovers that being feeble and lonely can be just as powerful as being a werewolf or a dystopian survivalist; instead, O’Brien up-plays the quirky, quick-witted, outcast with delusions about his solitary and unpopularity as he finds fortitude by trekking seven days through a monster-riddled hell to rekindle his relationship with Amiee, the last person he personally felt a connection to who hasn’t been squished under the foot of a Granddaddy Long Leg. “The Head Hunter” and “Underwater” star, Jessica Henwick, retunes her vocal chords to present her best American English accent in order to be Joel’s live-or-die love interest, if she hasn’t changed in the last seven horrible years. Yet, before Joel and Amiee reunite in what’s a finger-crossable moment of love again at first sight, the meek Joel Dawson needs to go through, what half the monsters outside have already gone through, is a metamorphosis of sorts to be bigger, tougher, and more self-reliant. This is where MCU alums, Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Ariana Greenblatt (“Avengers: Infinity War”) step in. As Clyde, Rooker’s the Bear Grylls of monster land, knowing all the tips and tricks of topside survival all the while sporting a Richard Simmons perm, whereas Greenblatt, as the orphaned Minnow traveling in companion with Clyde, is just rugged despite her pintsize. “Love and Monsters” really focuses on these four individuals that mainly perpetuate only one of them, Joel, to be the best survivor he can be at the bottom of the food chain, but other minor characters do arise and nudge brash action that requires the solidity of an unbroken community chain. Dan Ewing (“Occupation”), Ellen Hollman (“Asylum”), Pacharo Mzembe, Tre Hale, Senie Priti, Amalie Golden, and “The Road Warrior’s” Bruce Spence makes a cameo appearance as Old Pete.

What I find interesting about “Love and Monsters,” that’s more prevalent in most post-apocalypse themed plots, is the lack of dog-eat-dog between humans.  While the story mainly skirts around the concept with a running gag that the real reason Joel left his colony is because he’s a no-good food stealer, Joel’s interactions with his and Amiee’s colonies, plus in his travels with Clyde and Minnow, showed no sign of deception or greed, a rare and humbling dynamic when starved, weary, and scared people are backed against a wall and cutthroat advantages are at arm’s length; instead, a real sense of community and compassion is committed that brings a sense of hope, not for just Joel in a world conquered by monsters, but for also audiences with pessimistic views about the volatility of man.  Even with all the fears of A.I hostile takeover, tender moments of man face-to-face with machine seals that threat into inexistence as Joel comes across a damaged MAV1S unit, an anatomical automaton built for servicing humanity, borders that plane of complex human emotions with all the right things to say and able to read what Joel needs to here to keep him moving in a sacrificial scene of the androids’ last hurrah before complete battery drain.  “Love and Monsters” doesn’t do a complete withdrawal from the hypodermic needle of inhuman poison, but the concept is certainly not the emphasis.  With a title like “Love and Monsters,” you want the monsters to be, at the very least, half of the story, as promised, and we’re treated to a slew of different monsters with different personalities and with different innate weapons. Not all the monsters are blood thirsty. Some are gentle, but judged for their immense size and scary physical attributes and Matthews points this important theme out in a trope about-face, signifying that just because this is a monster movie, doesn’t mean all monsters have been unjustly deemed vicious and terrorizing. In a way, these monsters parallel in being judged just as inaccurately as Joel is by his survivalist peers without so much as the benefit of the doubt and only when a trust evolves from out of being scared is when judgements wash away with sheltered conventional thinking. Diminutive inside a fantasyland of behemoth horrors, “Love and Monsters” has a tremendous heart with an interpersonal message about understanding connections with people inside the mixed-messaged confines of coming into adulthood.

If we don’t nuke ourselves out of existence first, the lifeforms underneath the soles of our shoes will gladly seize dominance for an easy, human-sized, snack in Michael Matthews’ “Love and Monsters” now released on Blu-ray plus digital, as well as 4K Ultra HD and DVD, courtesy of Paramount Pictures. The PG-13 action-adventure creature feature is presented in high definition, 1080p, widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Australia is already a futuristic land of gorgeous overgrowth and untouched wonder, Lachlan Milne trades in the practical (zombie horde) aesthetics of “Little Monsters” to a transcending larger types of monsters to scale an open world environment to eventually be combined with post-production visual effects of Kaiju-sized myriapods, crustaceans, and amphibians to just name a few. Award winning VFX company, The Mill, has seamless and organic creations that blend truth and deception with the scariest of ease as creatures explode out of the ground or lumber above head with no angle left uncovered or underdeveloped in giving audiences unmistakable visuals of our nightmares. The English language 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is the epitome of well balanced with clear dialogue, a complimentary soundtrack, and a long range and diverse depth of sound engineered monsters being monsters from low, sonorous gutturals to the high cracks and pops of creature movements. Inside a cardboard slipcover, The Paramount Pictures Blu-ray comes with a digital movie code to add to your digital movie collection to watch anywhere, but the release also comes with deleted scenes, a “Bottom of the Food Chain” featurette feature snippet interviews with the cast and crew, and “It’s a Monster World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape” that dives into the natural preserve combined with production design to create the apocalypse illusion. Adventurously invigorating and outside the norm of telling story patterns, “Love and Monsters” romanticizes the post-apocalypse with a self love theme in a hope-inspiring and fun creature-crammed monster movie.

Blu-ray of “Love and Monsters.” Click poster to purchase at Amazon.com!

The Bends Can Be EVILLY Depressurizing. “Breaking Surface” reviewed! (Music Box Films / Digital Screener)

Two half-sisters, Ida, and Tuva, return home to spend time with their mother, preparing for a family dive in the frigid Norwegian waters near an isolated rock cliff.  When the mother withdraws because of her health, the sisters embark without her.  When a sudden rockslide traps Tuva, also the more experienced diver, between a rock and a hard place Ida must race against the clock to free her from being pinned to the bottom floor before viable air runs out, but with most of their gear under the rockslide rubble on the topside and only a few usable spare air tanks available, Ida, paying no heed to decompression sickness with her hasty reoccurring ascents to the surface, will do whatever it takes save her sister, even if that means being detrimental to her own life.

Scandinavian filmmaking has always been in this personally dissatisfying commercial stasis of public recognition oversight for years even though there are a number of projects, birthed from Sweden or Norway, that have the budget for success, compelling storytelling, and still fly shamefully under the radar and most audiences, speaking more for the U.S. based general admission moviegoers, don’t ever get the chance to experience without the bombardment of marketing or, perhaps more so, they intentionally skip over to titles with, who in large popcorn and soda glazed eyes, are well-known, recognizable thespian faces, or maybe a trailer they’ve seen during their morning daily talk shows and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” or for the worst reason of all, the subtitles are a big deterrent since Scandinavian films are in Scandinavian languages, but one of those films that depicts the immense Baltic beauty landscape but can also be edgy with touch of sensationalism is Joachim Hedén’s “Breaking Surface.” The director’s fourth feature length film in 2020 is woman versus nature, time versus the elements, when scuba diving hits direly rock bottom. Hedén wrote the film that’s presented by a Swedish and Norway co-production of companies, including Water Feature Films in association with Film i Väst, Film i Skåne, Umedia, Filmfond Nord, Sveriges Television, and Weggefilms. Julia Gebauer and Jonas Sörensson serve as producers.

At the core of the diving mishap are two sisters, Ida and Tuva. Half-sisters to be exact that are written with tremendous interfamily complexities because of their mother remarries Tuva’s father angle plus incorporating their own personal hang ups in adulthood with the genesis of their problem is stuck in the past. “Breaking Surface” is a woman domineered thriller, challenging the stereotyped patriarch activities of men and, to an extent, whatever role that is inhabited by a man is exhibited in not a good light. It’s reminiscent of the “47 Meters Down” films in more ways than one with scuba diving and an inclination for female principle characters dealing on hand with the cards dealt together to survive the elemental odds. Moa Gammel and Madeleine Martin play the respective leads of older sister Ida in the midst of divorce proceedings that comes complicated with two small children and has mother issues that she projects onto her younger half-sister, Tuva, who lives at the top of the food chain fearlessly and isn’t grounded by anyone, anything, or anywhere. Gammal and Martin instill into their characters a reaffirmations of their talents with Ida being a more recreational diver whereas Tuva lives and breaths underwater professionalism. This dynamic unfolds nicely when Tuva is trapped under a rockslide and her older sister has to be instructed, painfully detail-by-detail, what to do. At times, Ida is a character at a point of collapse because of how overly incompetent she can seem with no-brainer solutions; yet, this is where I believe Hedén to excel at scribing realism because no matter how frustrating can Ida’s actions be, any situation under that much pressure (pun intended) can discombobulate the mind, body, and senses. If my sister was trapped under a rock at the bottom of the sea floor, my id would explode and she would asphyxiate and drown before I could compute the situation. Yet, Ida comes around in her arc, completing more confidently and independently the challenges that face her despite their increase in difficult and severity with only minor eye-rolling cringes loitering in and between the second and third acts.

“Breaking Surface” is a modestly paced film with a slim runtime of 82 minutes that captures the entire trialing day odyssey of conquering nature, time, and death while decompressing fraught mental retentions of estranged sister and motherhood, parroting life circumstances, and a past event parallel that’s nearly paralyzing. As much as underwater thrillers excite as one of my personal favorite subgenres, there are downsides to “Breaking Surface” timing that felt limitless when Ida struggles to regain control from failure-after-failure of hopeless rescue endeavors of the most easiest of solution routes, but when the older sister resurfaces from below for a second time, a quick lap to a neighbors house didn’t quite jive with time and space, especially when the Sweden-residing Ida has to frantically read a map of a near alien Norwegian coastal topography. Miraculous, Ida is able to arrive at her destination, rustle about an absent homeowner’s isolated cabin for internet, phone, or an essential tool, and be back in half hour to scuba back down again toward her sister. I would imagine the series of event would have been on the better part of an hour, but what do I know about Norwegian landscapes? On the topic of knowing stuff, since I’m not a diving expert or aficionado, Hedén, in my eye, was able to sell explaining scuba diving jargon and actions with brief but natural expositions that forms innately with Ida’s recreational side of the activity. While not as tenderly macabre as “Let the Right One In” nor as wonderfully gory as the inane undead Nazi horror, “Dead Snow,” “Breaking Surface” is an oxygenated subaquatic air gasper tussling with submerged phrenic psychological and physical problems of two sisters trying desperately to save their frayed relationship.

 

As breathtaking as the Scandinavian artic north coastlines are, the icy waters of “Breaking Surface” will definitely take your breath away as an exhilarating underwater survive the clock time chaser. Arriving on VOD platforms on December 15 courtesy of Music Box Films under their Doppelganger Releasing banner, the film will be available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and in a Norwegian and Swedish language 5.1 surround sound with optional English subtitles. Anna Patarakina’s nominal two-tone cinematography induces a steely gray and blue cold environment of Scandinavian’s artic snow covered north. Patarakina captures the immense grandiose of Norway’s Lofoten’s mountains of serenity encircling their imminent, uncertain fate. Eric Börjeson joins the crew as the director of photography underwater and Börjeson, whose credits include “Let the Right One In (that unforgettable pool scene), keeps the shots tight from wandering beyond the cobalt blue, almost black, waters, fulfilling a nerve-splintering sense of disorientation. There were no bonus features included with this release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits, but I did find Juliet Simms’ “100 Little Deaths” to be a great rock-n-roll outro singled to signify the multiple possibilities the two sisters could have met their maker. “Breaking Surface” flurries with a cliffhanging suspense in an extreme counterpart of blending family therapy with acute disaster that brings two incongruous sisters back into restored harmony.