SXSW ‘Y2K’ Movie Review – The End of the World is Going to Be Funny

Anyone who was alive on New Year’s Eve in 1999 remembers that the world was supposed to end, and there was a lot of panic about it. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but there’s a universe in which things could have played out differently, which is vividly imagined in the directorial debut of Saturday Night Live alum Kyle Mooney. Knowing his most prominent sketch comedy work as well as his writing credit on the 2017 film Brigsby Bear, audiences should be well-prepared for the retro antics of this very turn-of-the-century movie.

While the complete shutdown of the entire computer network should probably be the headline of this film, it begins in a much simpler place: a kid on AOL Instant Messenger chatting with his crush. Eli (Jaeden Martell) and Danny (Julian Dennison) are best friends, and as they prepare for New Year’s Eve, they seem like the two leads from Superbad, talking a big game about having sex but likely possessing not nearly enough cool to make it happen. Eli is very into Laura (Rachel Zegler), a popular girl, and he doesn’t stand much of a chance. 

What starts as a teenage sex comedy quickly turns into a disaster movie where every piece of technology comes to murderous life to form a giant killer computer. Whether that’s the Y2K that most pictured is up for debate, but it’s a humorous and effective visual representation of how the rise of the machines might actually look, especially in the eyes of teenagers whose sense of the world can’t quite capture the grandeur of what’s really out there.

Those who lived through the 90s will love the movie Y2K

There are plenty of jokes, both spoken and visual, that will make audiences laugh, but there’s so much more to enjoy for those who lived through the Y2K era. The movie’s soundtrack is in itself a tremendous throwback to that time, but there are also so many references to the technology of the 1990s, particularly instant messaging and dial-up internet, that will surely go way over the heads of younger crowds, including most of the young actors who are playing kids who were supposed to be born in the 1980s even though they weren’t even around for the year 2000.

This deep hit of nostalgia only gets more zany as it goes, but it remains deeply committed to its tone and style. Eli and Danny’s friendship is central to the story, but these post-apocalyptic circumstances force different social circles to do away with their previous divides and combine forces to survive. Lachlan Watson is a standout as Ash, a camera-toting disciple of Farkas (Eduardo Franco), a skater bully who enjoys tormenting Eli and Danny. Popularity antics prove both petty and entertaining in this stressful context, approaching dramatic territory as running from murderous computer robots prompts many life-assessing conversations. 

Y2K’s cast is great, including director Kyle Mooney

The best illustration of Y2K’s sophistication and maturity level may be the role in which Mooney casts himself as the impossibly chill stoner working at the local movie store. Even the impending destruction of all humanity can’t bum him out, and getting into his headspace to enjoy this over-the-top trip is probably the most enjoyable way to experience it. Mostly, it’s fun to see a director giving himself this type of minor supporting role, reminiscent of writer Seth Rogen’s part in Superbad.

Dennison, first widely known for his breakout performance in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, knows how to make the most of any part, and Danny is definitely the overconfident life of the party, even if he has nothing to back it up. His energy isn’t quite infectious but it does kick things off before the rise of the machines. Martell is less enthusiastic, but he doesn’t seem meant to feel as strongly defined as the other characters, anchoring the journey with livelier personalities around him, ready to underestimate him at every turn. Zegler, certainly the biggest star in this ensemble following her West Side Story fame, is well-cast and most fun to watch when she’s pushing back against her new friends calling her out for never talking to them before the end of the world was impending.

The comedy rises above all in this human vs. machine movie

Evan Winter impresses with his first screenplay, one that isn’t concerned with being smart but instead with evoking a time that older audiences can certainly remember and appreciate. The comedy should be relatable enough that, even with a handful of references missed by those who have only ever known smartphones, and most of it is inherently amusing, with giant killer computers wielding whatever weapons they can assemble from household technology to attack unsuspecting humans too focused on drinking alcohol or indulging in other leisure activities.

To describe it as horror wouldn’t be accurate since comedy almost comes first in this case. Fortunately, the balance in tone works well enough since this movie knows what it wants to be from the outset and remains committed to that all the way through to the end. Y2K is a blast for audiences who go in with the right expectations, and those who remember that this could, in some dimension, have been a reality will have all that much more fun.

Y2K is now playing at SXSW.

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