Since the blockbuster success of Ghostbusters almost three decades ago, the horror comedy subgenre has been awaiting its spiritual predecessor, seeing as no major outright horror comedy franchise has been able to bring in anywhere as near as much at the box office. Sure, the world of home video and the various subsections of the underground cult scene have given new life to horror comedy in a big way, paving the way for Edgar Wright and John Gulager to establish their cinematic voice and, as a result, their own vocal and loyal audiences. But as a part of the larger picture of the film business, horror comedy has always been a gamble business-wise, so rarely clicking as well with audiences as Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis did so many years ago when they took on the supernatural.
However, if the changing of the times comes with a changing of content, and the fluctuating moral landscape has allowed cruder material to include an inherent charm and level of endearment that has come to define the Judd Apatow brand of comedy. And although attempts to bring that irreverent, buddy-buddy Apatow vibe to other genres have held mixed results, such as Your Highness and Paul as particular stand-out disappointments, that same charm and endearment can be found in This is the End, which essentially plays as the comedy equivalent to the Left Behind series, wearing it’s horror influences in a big way.
Directed by star Seth Rogen and frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg, This is the End sports a simple concept, adapted from Jason Stone’s short film: six celebrity friends find themselves holed up and running out of resources when the apocalypse arrives. These six celebrity friends include Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, with a slew of celebrity cameos, some of which are too demented and hysterical to be ruined here. But it is clear that the film is more than the culmination of the Apatow-inspired films that came before it, instead focusing on a longtime friendship on the rails that gets tested by temptation and desperation during the end of the world.
The concept itself is subtly brilliant in the sense that the film can be seen as secret critique of the Hollywood landscape and lifestyle. As actors are often self-absorbed and sometimes hedonistic, This is the End ensues with a dark cloud of satirical karma looming over the film as the leads go through their hilarious rapport and willingness to go deep into self-depravation. However, most clever of all is how this critique compliments each of these actors so well, considering each have been stereotyped in the film business in one way or another, a fact that is not only address but even at times shockingly reaffirmed to great comic effect.
Nevertheless, despite the humor, both obvious and understated, the film wouldn’t nearly be as effective if it wasn’t rooted so deeply into the horror genre. Fans of apocalypse movies will see some moments coming a mile away, but This is the End stays ahead of the audience for most of the film, displaying an incredible poker face that allows the introduction of more unexpected apocalypse tropes to blindside the audience effectively. The creatures that roam the earth following the apocalypse take design cues from Attack the Block, Ghostbusters and gothic horror (as well as a drop-dead hilarious homage to Rosemary’s Baby), handled by none other than Greg Nicotero who succeeds with the few practical moments on display, although the digital effects that he’s improved upon during his stay at The Walking Dead have evidently yet to be perfected.
In terms of performances in the film, there’s always a difficulty in judging an actor who is playing a variation on themselves, although the different approaches to the concept are all front-and-center. Whereas a scene-stealing Michael Cera and a career-best Danny McBride opt for a more fictionally based larger-than-life performance of themselves, others play themselves more straight-laced, including Jason Segel and Emma Watson, who feels wasted in a small role that must have appeared more important in the script. But each of the leads is given moments to shine throughout, whether it be Hill playing evil, Robinson showing off passive-aggressive cowardice or an argument between McBride and Franco that is laced with such vitriol and wit that, under less-childish circumstances, could have been mistaken for a scene from a Mamet piece. However, the films most-valuable-players are Rogen and Baruchel, who provide the film with an emotional core and help ground the film when it ventures too far into silliness.
This is the End is a rare mainstream win for the world of horror-comedy, and is definitely the subgenre’s best bet into relaunching itself into the public consciousness. It’s not too horrific as to scare away comedy fans, yet horrific enough to please those who appreciate the genre material at hand. Most of all, This is the End achieves the purpose of the film, which is to be outrageous funny, devilishly dark and surprisingly poignant. Goldberg and Rogen’s understanding of the subgenre’s functions and intentions went a long way to ensuring a quality apocalypse comedy, and while more involved members of the horror-comedy community may rank The World’s End as their more anticipated horror-comedy entry of the year, This is the End sets the bar pretty damned high.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.