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The One Love And Monsters Scene That Makes Us Love Dylan O'Brien Even More

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Dylan O'Brien has been dashing his way into our hearts for years, and in Love and Monsters, he has a new reason to run — make that millions of creepy-crawly and razor-toothed reasons. O'Brien stars in the new film as Joel Dawson, a young man who is enjoying the bliss of young love with his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) until the world descends into monster-filled madness.

Yep, after all of humanity finally comes together to use their nuclear weapons for the common good of destroying an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, everything seems peachy keen — that is, until the chemical compounds from the blast rain back down on Earth and turn all of the world's cold-blooded creatures into giant man-eaters. Talk about a big whoops. Joel ends up being separated from Aimee and spends the next several years of his life sheltering underground with a close-knit colony of fellow survivors. As lucky as he is to still be alive at a time when the vast majority of the world's population has been wiped out, Joel still feels a lot of loneliness, especially since everyone else in his little bunker community has paired off into romantic relationships. So when he learns that Aimee's colony is located just a few dozen miles away, he decides to take his chances with all the scaly scaries in hopes of reaching his one true love.

The problem is that Joel hasn't been outside in years and has no survival skills to speak of. In fact, any time there's even a hint of trouble, Joel is notorious for freezing up. So his friends in the colony have little faith in his journey and desperately try to talk him out of it. But Joel is determined, and there's one pivotal scene in his journey in which everything changes for our hero. When faced with dangers of the present, including losing his new best friend if he doesn't act, Joel confronts the devastating truth about his past to find the strength to fight. Not only is it a stirring moment in the movie, but the scene also reminds us just how talented Dylan O'Brien is as a major screen star.

Life lessons

By the time we get to this key scene in the film, Joel has already had a couple of very harrowing encounters with some of the things that go bump in the night — and day. First, he narrowly escapes a massive, multi-eyed toad with a mile-long tongue thanks to the help of Boy, a nice doggy who shows up just in the nick of time to distract the monster and leads Joel to his old school bus hideout. Joel instantly bonds with his new four-legged friend, and once he realizes that Boy has lost his beloved owner — a girl whose red dress the dog desperately clings to — Joel invites the pooch to join him for the rest of the journey.

Joel soon has to be saved again, though — this time, by a pair of savvy travelers named Clyde (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt), who spring him from a sand gobbler's nest and let him and Boy tag along for part of their trek. The two generously teach Joel a few key tricks about how to hack it in the wild, including how to wield a crossbow. When their paths finally diverge, Joel continues on with some renewed energy.

O'Brien depicts Joel here as a man who has not only has not only made some new friends and picked up a few skills along the way, but he has now confirmed that this is still the path he wants to take, even when given another choice to join Clyde and Minnow on the road to the mountains. He also seems to have a renewed sense of hope, since he now knows there are other people in the world who are nice and still able to make it in the wild. Joel's surety is short lived, however, as he and Boy immediately run into trouble again in a swamp, and this time, there'll be no one swooping in to save them. All of this combines and comes to a head in one incredible scene.

Time to move

Boy figures out something's wrong first and hides beneath a big rubber ducky statue, refusing to move even as we hear the eerie sounds of something slithering to the surface. Eventually a giant centipede emerges from the ground, but before Joel can use his new shooting skills to end the beast, he's knocked to the ground by its enormous tail. As the insect encircles the helpless Boy, Joel remembers the last time he watched someone he loves fall victim to an oversized creature like this — two someones, actually.

In a heartbreaking flashback, we learn that both Joel's mother and father were trapped in their car and then crushed to death right in front of him. In this moment of the scene, O'Brien's performance is truly gutting as he quietly relives that experience of utter shock and instant heartbreak while grappling with the real-time likelihood of losing Boy and his own life, too. However, the final words of his mom are also echoing in Joel's mind: "Run, Joel, run... You can survive this. I love you."

It takes just a moment for O'Brien's expression of dismay to turn into one of determination as he soaks in what his mother's parting message really means. For the better part of a decade, Joel has been told by his companions that he can't make it on his own, but the woman who loved him the most really believed that he could survive. O'Brien's eyes here make it clear that this memory has given Joel the jolt he needs to stand up for himself and his dog.

A true triumph

We've seen O'Brien make a split decision to put himself into the action on-screen before. For his leading role as Thomas in the 2014 adaptation of The Maze Runner, the actor was also required to show off his fast footwork in some dangerous terrains. And one of the most unforgettable scenes in that film is when Thomas decides to throw himself into the maze, knowing he may not ever come back out alive, in order to try and save his friends. In this Love and Monsters scene, though, it's not just bravado and sheer guts that are driving O'Brien's character, as the actor effectively showcases both Joel's instinctual self-doubt and the process of him gaining courage from remembering his worst day — and its aftermath.

Once Joel decides to fight back to save Boy, he quickly puts another learned lesson to good use as he channels Minnow's "like a needle through water" shooting instruction to nail the creature in the face with just two tries. And once he realizes that he has succeeded and Boy is mostly unharmed, O'Brien's tears of fear and sorrow become those of joy. He has now rescued his pet pal from certain doom, and more importantly, he has also saved himself. He's lived up to the potential his mother believed he had. 

O'Brien's performance in the scene makes it clear that his victory here is about more than just exterminating another big bug; he has also finally done away with the part of himself that believed he couldn't. Dylan O'Brien has always been great at portraying visceral emotional reactions even in otherworldly situations, as we saw throughout his turn as Stiles Stilinski in Teen Wolf. But here the actor manages to run the entire gamut of his character's feelings in a matter of minutes and never misses a step.