For some reason Fall & Winter 2020 are giving us not one, not two, but three separate fantasy adventure films revolving around young do-gooders hunting giant, voracious monsters. Last weekend saw debuts for Netflix original A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting and big-budget, Premium On-Demand release Love & Monsters. Later this year, tentatively scheduled for an end-of-December theatrical bow is video game adaptation Monster Hunter, starring Milla Jovovich as she once again kicks ass for her filmmaker husband, game-to-screen connoisseur Paul W.S. Anderson.
Babysitter’s Guide is a mildly endearing if relatively forgettable kids romp about a secret club of babysitters that have been hunting and capturing the subjects of children’s nightmares for centuries, whether it’s the Boogeyman himself or other things that go bump in the closet. A full-on Mary Sue protagonist (Tamara Smart), right down to her inexplicable “beautiful mind” skills in mathematics, is roped into an adventure when her charge, the young son of her mother’s “ice queen” boss, is kidnapped by the Grand Guignol of monsters (Tom Felton). When diving into the club’s secret headquarters and its team of fifteen year-old science wizzes, the movie borders on Disney Channel nonsense. When diving into the Guignol’s decadent lair or following Smart and her mentor (Oona Lawrence) around town during Halloween, Babysitter’s Guide is an entertaining coming-of-age tale with a cool “shadow monster” and a wickedly funny, theatrical performance by Felton, who gets to sing and prance to his heart’s content. Thumbs up to Indya Moore’s devilish Cat Lady, thumbs down to the wannabe Minions called Toadies. They’re neither funny nor scary and they look like they belong in an animated movie.
Love & Monsters fills a void I didn’t know was there for me: the light-hearted science-fiction fantasy epic full of funny moments, romance, and plenty of feels. If Maze Runner didn’t already make it clear, Dylan O’Brien asserts himself here as one of the most appealing leading men today with a creative, incredibly likable performance that isn’t quite a one-man show, but it’s close. Aided by a stellar, intermittent supporting cast including Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, and Ariana Greenblatt, O’Brien and South African director Michael Matthews ground and enliven what could’ve been just another post-apocalyptic YA piece of fluff. Instead it’s a thrilling, moving, enthralling boy-and-his-dog adventure (and boy-and-his-long-lost-love story) with emotional depth, great special effects, and some of the creepiest, most realistic on-screen monsters in some time. There are gargantuan creatures based on frogs, fire ants, slugs, and fierce centipedes, as well as other mysteries like “sand gobblers.” Fingers crossed every which way that this would-be blockbuster can eke out a profit on video-on-demand and deliver us a much-needed sequel. There’s a brief glimpse of a pot-marked hive on the face of a perilous cliff, so give me some giant wasps in the next one and pronto.
I’m no fan of the other Anderson, but Jovovich hasn’t lost a step as an action heroine and this trailer slaps. One of these days Hollywood will do right by video games on the big screen, and yet I don’t care what this two-minute tease does or doesn’t get right about the source material. I don’t play games and had never ever heard of this title until a film adaptation was announced. Here’s hoping it’s a proper slice of dicey action and movie star posturing.