When December 21st, 2012 came to pass and the world had not ended like it was predicted by the Mayan calendar, we could chalk it up as another failed apocalypse prediction, like Y2K and every single failed prediction by religious officials about the Rapture. At this point, the apocalypse has become a joke, something conspiracy theorists shout out about on crowded city street corners and advertise with homemade posters. For the sake of those looking for escapist entertainment, the apocalypse has always been there in some form to display a filmmaker’s interpretation of how the end of the world might look or come about.
This time, the apocalypse has found its way into the world of comedy thanks to writer/producer/directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, starring Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride as themselves. Based on Rogen and Goldberg’s proof-of-concept short Jay and Seth Vs. the Apocalypse, the focus of the story often gets lost amidst the chaos and does not have the same amount of charm and sincerity as other comparable offerings. However, This Is the End is a typically raunchy comedy from this group that is boosted by wonderful insult and self-deprecating humor and energetic sequences of horror-inspired madness.
In Rogen and Goldberg’s newest comedic adventure, Jay and Seth meet up and go to James Franco’s recently finished house, where he’s throwing a party. Suddenly, after a series of earthquakes, the ground comes apart and the apocalypse rains down on the Hollywood hills. All that are left are Seth, Jay, James, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride as they try to survive in James’ luxurious house. What follows from the opening sequence of carnage certainly is humorous, and most of the punch lines are of the typically raunchy variety if you’ve seen a comedy starring any of these six actors, but the story seems to stray away for periods of time in order to give focus to the comedy and the chaos.
In fact, because of this, much of the plot progression feels very scattershot. Every scene resembles a different comedic sketch rather than a part of an overall cohesive narrative. But don’t worry. This doesn’t distract from the plethora of jokes about penises and weed. Additionally, as usual, this normally crass comedic material is dealt with handily and professionally by the cast, who have had prior experience, so it’s safe to say that they are well-seasoned veterans of raunch. But, the shame is that the film has the potential for a good story, and it shines through on numerous occasions, but it was never given the attention it truly deserved. Fortunately, because of the successful laughs, this is not by any means a glaring problem.
Another quality that was disheartening (pun maybe intended, I honestly don’t know) was the lack of heart in This is the End, at least when compared to other comedies of its kind. In Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, much of the film is predicated on similar humor as This is the End, except with more pregnancy jokes. But, Knocked Up takes time to break away from the comedy for more dramatic, sentimental moments that add depth to the characters and engage the emotions of the audience. Rogen and Goldberg’s Superbad is a raunchy two hour exercise in jokes about alcohol and losing virginity, but the characters and their dilemmas, no matter how extreme, are relatable to any viewer that has felt the stresses of graduating from high school, giving the film an inherent charm that permeates the story.
What’s great about these films is that their charm acts as an effective counterbalance to the comedy, which borders on immaturity often enough. So, although it is not a major issue with the film, it was a slightly disappointing realization, especially when the story had a chance to showcase its warmth. Ultimately, the film is about friendship prevailing against all the troubles that may arise from something like, say, the apocalypse.
While much of the humor is typically bawdy for the cast of six, that type of comedy is not what truly makes the movie. Much of the film uses a wonderful mix of insult and self-deprecating humor. Because all of the actors play themselves – or at least some extreme side of their personalities – this allows for many jokes to be tossed about each other’s careers as actors. Most comedies tend to let this form of humor wait in the wings, neglected and not to be used, which makes This is the End feel quite refreshing. One of the best examples within the film occurs shortly after we meet Danny McBride, who does not know the apocalypse is happening, and he has cooked breakfast for everyone in the house. He especially makes light of Rogen’s recent string of comedic disappointments and Jonah Hill’s new ventures into more Oscar-worthy material. Knowing that the actors are willing to take slights about their persona makes the comedy work better than normal and gives the film a more gleeful, light-hearted tone to counterbalance the darkness surrounding them and the crass nature of many of the jokes.
Additionally, some of the laughs come from humor that’s delivered with a bit more subtlety. This includes some of the self-deprecation, but it covers other ground. The most well executed example occurs during the opening chaos. The group spots a helicopter they think might save them from a living room window. Instead, the helicopter crashes and one of its rotor blades flies through the window, revealed with the aid of a whip pan. When it hits the wall, Craig immediately covers his hand, so our expectations are that his hand has been taken off. But with gradual close-ups, we find that he’s only suffered a paper cut-like wound. By misleading our expectations through the cinematography, the punch line is more effective. This is only one example of the wide range of humor that the film covers.
Because of how the film was marketed, unless you saw the film, you would have no idea that it is actually a horror comedy, and it delivers with well-constructed sequences of horror-inspired craziness. This is not the least bit surprising considering, typically, horror films, or any movie that employs a fair number of genre aesthetics, do not sell well with the public nowadays. With the exception of Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, most contemporary horror comedies have not been box office smashes, regardless of whether they were given a limited or wide release. Even Jennifer’s Body, which boasted modern beauty Megan Fox in the title role and Diablo Cody (writer of Juno) as screenwriter, could not even make a profit – perhaps Cody’s awkwardly unrealistic dialogue was part of its downfall.
So, thanks to clever marketing that exploits the comedy without giving away much of the horror, and the fact that the film’s stars give it a better chance than most, This is the End is, and will continue, enjoying plentiful success. Thankfully, Rogen and Goldberg showcase their knowledge well, creating scenes of chaos masterfully. These moments include kinetic cinematography that rapidly switches between carnage and horrified reactions in single takes. The result is a film that is adept at switching between humor and terror.
Unfortunately, I don’t see This is the End opening the eyes of audiences to other horror comedies, like Slither or Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, that are played more straight as genre films. Most people will probably just accept this as another entry in Rogen and Goldberg’s more than successful catalogue of comedies, and that’s perfectly fine because, above all, this is a hilarious movie. I certainly hope that more people than I believe are able to appreciate its horror-inspired set pieces and winks to notable films of the genre, but I’m not holding out hope. This film is not the best from those involved, but its six comedy rock stars all handle a questionable script more than well enough and effectively carry the film’s weight from start to finish.
I expected the film to be a little bit more than it was, but I don’t consider that unfair to my impending thoughts of the film. I remain satisfied with the film that I saw, and my satisfaction should do more than justify my thoughts about it. I give This is the End a rating of three maple leaves out of four. The apocalypse is nothing but a joke to modern society – as it should – and fortunately, Rogen, Baruchel, and company have been in on it for quite some time now.