Hot on the heels of his scene-stealing turn in The 40 Year Old Virgin and the completion of the yet-to-be-released Knocked-Up, Seth Rogen teamed up with friends Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel (a former cast mate of Rogen’s in the short-lived television series, Undeclared,) and put together a short film/mock trailer for a proposed feature entitled Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse. The title basically says it all, as the short focused on a pair of actors named…well… Jay and Seth, as they ride out The Apocalypse in a cramped apartment whilst smoking weed, burning through their limited supplies, and, basically, driving each other insane. The short made the YouTube rounds, and, fueled by its online success, Goldberg and Rogen shopped and sold their creation to Sony, resulting in the star-studded comedy/horror hybrid, This is the End.
Rogen and Baruchel return to their respective roles (playing heightened versions of themselves, more or less), with Jay reluctantly visiting old friend Seth in Los Angeles, despite his disdain for the artifice of Hollywood. Seth promises Jay that the weekend will be just like old times; a low-key affair at Seth’s house, with lots of weed and video games. However, Seth does have one commitment he can’t get out of, and that’s a party christening friend James Franco’s new house. Jay absolutely hates Seth’s “new friends” (especially Jonah Hill, for reasons only clear to Jay), and has no desire to spend any time with them, but Seth is adamant that they go, and promises Jay that he’ll not leave his side for a minute.
The duo arrive at Franco’s new house – an enormous Frank Lloyd Wright inspired manse “designed” by the actor – where they are greeted by a who’s who of young Hollywood ( including a hilariously belligerent, coked-up Michael Cera). Just as Jay feared, Seth ditches him in favor of a slavishly devoted Franco, while Jonah Hill, who goes out of his way to be as complimentary and considerate of Jay as humanly possible, sends Jay off in a rage, where he encounters more of Seth’s new Hollywood friends, including Craig Robinson, Chris Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari, and even Emma Watson, who basically label Jay a hipster for his anti-Hollywood mawkishness.
Frustrated and wanting to leave, Jay tracks Seth down and asks him to accompany him to the store for cigarettes, and, as the two argue en route, all hell breaks loose, literally, as the earth trembles, knocking Seth to the ground, while Jay witnesses beams of blue light descending from the heavens, sucking up people all around them. Soon the city is awash in flame and disorder, and Jay and Seth return to Franco’s house where they find the party is still in swing despite the chaos outside. When another, more violent tremor hits, however, the guests flee outside where most are either swallowed by a mammoth sinkhole in Franco’s front lawn, or trampled underfoot (a much more gruesome death is reserved for Michael Cera), with Jay, Seth, James, Craig, and Jonah retreating back into the house to wait for help that the latter is certain will be arriving as “they always rescue famous people first”.
As the night wears on, however, it becomes clear that help won’t be coming anytime soon, so the terrified men decide to board up the house with Franco’s pretentious art collection, and go over their supplies, which include several bottles of water, a decent amount of food, and a very wide selection of mind-altering substances. Secure in the knowledge that they’ve enough goods to survive for at least a few days, the men hunker down for the night, unaware that Danny McBride lay sleeping in the bathtub upstairs. McBride awakens, bathes himself in the sink with the bottled water, cooks up a massive breakfast feast, and, ultimately, exhausts a week’s worth of supplies in less than twenty minutes.
The rest of the men awaken to a pleased-as-punch McBride, who, sitting at a table loaded with all manner of hastily prepared foodstuffs, has no idea about the events that unfolded the night prior, and isn’t convinced until they all witness a desperate survivor being decapitated by an unseen force. This is when Jay tells the others about the blue lights sucking people up into the sky. He believes that he witnessed the Rapture, and that they’ve been left behind to survive Hell on Earth. Of course, the others don’t believe him, though not just because his story sounds far-fetched, but, rather, due to the fact that they can’t fathom why they’d have been left behind! As the days pass, however, and the city burns around them, it becomes increasingly clear that Jay is right, and that they must somehow find a way to do something truly selfless and good if they’ve any hope of leaving this cursed place.
Crass, crude, vulgar, and bloody as all get out, This is the End is absolutely hysterical and superbly entertaining stuff. Much like the Goldberg/Rogen penned Pineapple Express, which deftly weaved 80s action/buddy flick conventions with stoner comedy tropes, This is The End turns the Apocalypse genre on its ear, mixing event picture production values, great CGI effects, and over-the-top gore with vomit-inducing sight gags and a script that is basically ninety pages of drug, sex, and shit jokes until it all somehow coalesces into a heaping hunk of comedy horror gold. The brilliance of the film, however, lay in its anti-vanity project nature, and the performances of each actor eagerly poking fun at and amplifying the public’s tabloid-tinged perceptions of them to hilarious and unflattering extremes. The notoriously artsy Franco portrays himself as a truly pretentious and petty (yet hopelessly insecure) eccentric, while Hill plays up both his “nice guy” label as well as the perception that his Academy Award nomination (Best Supporting Actor in Moneyball) has put him in a different league than his co-stars. Both actors do a fine job of making themselves unlikeable, but McBride (who wasn’t even invited to the party because Franco secretly hates him) fully embraces the concept, making himself a downright despicable piece of human garbage who embodies the same cantankerous, crude, self-involved persona as the characters he plays in…well…everything he’s ever been in. Never has anyone been so good at making themselves look so bad (at least on purpose).
Rogen, Robinson, and Baruchel are a bit more low key, with the latter (and, not coincidentally, the least “Hollywood” of the lot) essentially serving as both the audience’s POV character, as well as the sole voice of reason, with Rogen as his seemingly irredeemable soulmate.
The direction by Rogen and Goldberg is occasionally erratic and, at times, self-indulgent, but, given that this was essentially a labor of love by a group of friends working together for a minute fraction of their normal take, the fact that This is the End turned to be as funny and entertaining as it did is a no less than a minor miracle. While the comedy is obviously up front and center, the horror elements actually work here, and there were actually a couple of jump scares that gave me a bigger goose than anything in Insidious 2 (God, that was awful, but that’s for another review).
If you’re a fan of this comedic clique’s work, you’ve probably already got this on preorder and are just waiting for the mailman to drop it into your grubby little paws. Still, even those who aren’t disciples of Freaks and Geeks and all-things-Apatow will find much to enjoy, here, especially horror fans looking for gross-outs and gags in equal abundance.
The DVD release from Sony includes a commentary track by Goldberg and Rogen, as well as the aforementioned short that inspired the film, but real fans will want to shell out the extra for the Blu-ray release, which is packed with other goodies, including featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and more.