Y2K Review: It’s the End of the World for Rachel Zegler and We Feel Fine


AOL Instant Messenger. Nintendo 64. Sisqo’s “The Thong Song.” Nu Metal and all things Limp.

If you understood any of the above words, chances are you remember the turn of the millennium with fondness, as well as a degree of cringe. But if you don’t know these ancient relics, you probably still recognize the youthful and eagerly game faces that director Kyle Mooney has cast in his directorial debut, Y2K. Either way, the former SNL alumni has bet heavily on cultivating retro good vibes for his house party of a horror-comedy, and after watching the film at its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival this weekend, it’s safe to say the thing rages, even if with all the grace and style of a suburbanite scrub.

Unwavering in its rush to mine from the hills of millennial nostalgia, Y2K is the first film out of the gate to tap into the late ‘90s aesthetic, a time when going to a video store was considered a youth activity and bucket hats were worn unironically. For that reason, Mooney nor his screenwriter Evan Winter make any bones or apologies about the rose-tinted nature of the enterprise. This is a chipper time capsule that attempts to fuse together late ‘90s and early 2000s teen comedies like Can’t Hardly Wait and American Pie with the absurdity of an especially gruesome SNL digital short.

Yet it’s the film’s unabashed shamelessness, as well as a wildly entertaining ensemble cast, led by a still incandescent Rachel Zegler, that makes the whole thing work—that plus the ingenious germ of an idea Mooney nurtured with screenwriter Evan Winter: What if Y2K actually was the end of the world?

For those who were not there, Y2K was a shorthand term given to the techno dread experienced by both early internet conspiracy theorists and real-world governments. With the year 2000 ushering in a new century and millennium, would it wreak havoc or glitch all the programmed technology of the world? Like other doom prophecies, this one was left unfulfilled, but in Mooney and Winter’s irreverent hands, to party like it’s 1999 means you’re also dancing at death’s door.

Hence the New Year’s Eve unlike any other experienced by Eli (It: Chapter One’s Jaeden Martell) and Danny (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison). They’re two high school losers of the Superbad variety who nonetheless want to spend the last night of the century at a party where Eli could finally kiss the girl of his dreams, Laura (Zegler of West Side Story and Hunger Games fame). Yet the best laid plans of mice and Joseph Gordon-Levitt characters is waylaid when at 12:01 a.m., the world actually ends and a sentient “Y2K bug” causes candy-colored iMacs and blenders to massacre everyone in sight.

In the aftermath, our heroes, plus an assorted collection of ‘90s teen movie clichés—the stoner (Stranger Things’ Eduardo Franco), the nu metal rocker (Sabrina’s Lachlan Watson), the anti-mainstream hipster (Daniel Zolghadri), and the slightly older college guy who is probably listening to Sonic Boom and Third Eye Blind (Scream VI’s Mason Gooding)—must band together to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland and figure out why planes are falling out of the sky.

Y2K is every bit as batty as its premise teases, and probably quite a bit gorier than you could dare hope for. It trades in pop culture shorthand and well-known archetypes, both then and now, although in the process it never truly reaches the emotional heights of so many of its obvious touchstones. Eli and Danny do not recreate Jonah Hill and Michael Cera’s one wild night, nor is the film going to stop long enough for Laura to tear up while reading 10 things she hates about Eli. This monument to pop culture junk is slighter than the deities it worships, albeit Mooney probably never intended to match them.

The film has the shaggy looseness of sketch comedy, and thus the spontaneity to surprise and, at times, gross out. The largely practical and handcrafted special effects wherein computers, microwaves, and the occasional VCR merge their circuits together to form demonic Megazords of Death are so bizarre and absurdist that they’ll win laughs just from the pure incredulity of it all.

The other giggles are earned by a cast that has charm for days. Dennison gets one particularly showy moment where he is allowed the literal floorspace to recreate “The Thong Song;” meanwhile Zegler continues to prove she is a star in the making. As with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, she is able to command the camera’s attention with an ebullient joie de vivre that does much of the film’s heavy-lifting. Gooding also suggests he could be a Gen Z breakout if studios might begin using that full-wattage smile in leading roles instead of always in the margins.

The cast’s collective charisma, as well as several dozen buckets of blood and a brazen wistfulness for all things ‘90s, creates an undeniable good time. It seems unlikely anyone will be recreating scenes from this movie in another cinematic revelry 25 years from now, but in the year of our Lord 2024, audiences will definitely laugh at the multiplex, especially for a third act cameo so stupefyingly preposterous that it borders on glorious. And isn’t that what you always want to say after leaving a party?

Y2K premiered at SXSW on March 9 and will be released by A24 later in the year.

The post Y2K Review: It’s the End of the World for Rachel Zegler and We Feel Fine appeared first on Den of Geek.

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