The Rapture begins. The worthy are sucked up into Heaven via blue beams of light, and Satan and his forces wreak havoc upon the poor, sinful suckers left behind. That small group includes Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson. They’re all playing themselves…or well, versions of themselves. This Is the End sounds like a lame, self-indulgent, inside joke that a pack of pampered celebrities have decided to charge the public for the privilege of viewing, but the flick actually manages to be the funniest comedy to roll out of Hollywood in a long time. Go figure.
This Is the End, written and directed by the filmmaking duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, pulls off the seemingly impossible tightrope walk of being a wonderfully irreverent, raunchy comedy while also functioning as a fairly effective horror movie. There hasn’t been a more effective fusion of comedy and horror since last year’s brilliant Cabin in the Woods. This Is the End benefits from having a strong ensemble cast, some effective scares, and a surprisingly tender story at its core.
Despite the flick’s star power, the hero of the movie is actually Jay Baruchel. The Canadian actor, playing a variation of himself, arrives in Los Angeles to stay with Seth Rogen, his best friend. Rogen, like his real-life counterpart, has enjoyed fame and fortune over the past decade, and in turn, he has accumulated a collection of celebrity friends that includes the likes of James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, and Michael Cera. The more down-to-earth Jay doesn’t approve of Seth’s narcissistic Hollywood pals and he’s understandably irked when Seth drags him along to James Franco’s housewarming party. Jay wants his best friend to himself, but Seth has already moved on to a new clique composed of decadent assholes.
An awkward party soon turns into a full-blown crisis as the biblical apocalypse kicks off. Most of the earth’s population is immediately raptured to Heaven. Judd Apatow’s crew apparently consists of scumbags, so those who aren’t immediately killed by raging natural disasters or marauding demons (90% of the cast are brutally slaughtered in the film’s first half hour) are forced to weather the apocalypse in James Franco’s mansion. Jay, Seth, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill are forced to contend with forces of hell raging outside the house and the machinations of an utterly psychopathic Danny McBride within the house. It’s hard to tell which is worse: Satan or Danny McBride. The characters here are ill-equipped to deal with either threat. At one point Craig Robinson screams, “We’re soft as baby shit!”
Given the premise of This Is the End, the filmmakers’ decision to make Jay Baruchel the hero of the movie is brilliant. Since each member of the cast is playing himself, each character comes with some baggage. As the least famous member of this band of survivors, Baruchel functions as a sort of likable Everyman. He’s the most relatable character by far, and I found myself rooting for him to rekindle his friendship with Seth and survive the Rapture. Their bromance is the beating heart at the center of the movie.
But despite the touchy-feely subplot driving the story, This Is the End doesn’t skimp on gore, scares, or gross-out humor. As the apocalypse kicks off, people are burned alive, impaled by sharp objects, and slaughtered by demons straight from the pits of Hell. With the entire city of Los Angeles hurled into a world of smoke, fire, and eternal night, the crew are unable to step foot outside the residence without being immediately killed.
It’s all surprisingly grim. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen set much of the movie within the confines of James Franco’s house, leaving the exact level of destruction and mayhem to the imagination. Somehow that makes the flick even more foreboding and claustrophobic. The existential dread created by the situation is punctuated by appearances from monsters, demon possessed zombies, and a roving band of cannibals.
Based on my description up to this point, I’m sure many of you are thinking I’m describing a dour Lars von Trier arthouse flick, and yet This Is the End boasts actual humor, too. The movie is chock full of gross-out sight gags and the sort of free-wheeling improvisation for which the Apatow crew is known. Highlights of movie include the entire cast screaming like prepubescent girls as a man is decapitated in front of them, the crew shooting a no-budget sequel to Pineapple Express on the camera from 127 Hours, Craig Robinson drinking his own urine out of a champagne glass, and Jonah Hill being literally raped by the Devil. One particular sequence wherein James Franco screams at Danny McBride for jerking off all over his one surviving porno magazine had me in stitches.
And yet despite the gruesome horror and the raunchy comedy, there’s that grounding story of the bond shared by two best friends. Because the movie’s premise is legitimately horrific, the laughs somehow come harder, and because there’s so much at stake, we somehow care about the characters more—even if they are merely caricatures of the actors playing them. This movie is a complete and utter contradiction; it instills dread while managing to be heartfelt and hilarious. This Is the End is a movie that really shouldn’t work at all, and yet, it’s the funniest movie of 2013. Kudos to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for having the courage to make it.