Welcome back to Friday Nightmare Reviews wherein I suggest movies that you could be watching instead of scrolling endlessly into the abyss of the internet. Tonight we contemplate that eternal question that occasionally drifts into everyone’s mind. It’s the kind of thing that one finds themselves really examining in the dead hours of the night while you can’t sleep and you wonder where the years have gone and what it all means. That question is, of course, what would I do in the middle of an apocalypse.
Thanks to the rise in popularity of things the The Walking Dead, people have thought about how badass they think they’re going to be during the advent of zombies taking over civilization but what about other types of apocalypses? Well, if you’re the makers of this week’s movie, you hustle your butt to the Canadian side of the pacific coast and make it about a kind of apocalypse that isn’t popular or, if memory serves, really a thing at all.
I swear to you that not every film that I watch or review is Canadian but I will say an almighty hot damn do we have a lot of shitty movies that pump out of this land. Granted, this is partly to blame on good old Hollywood North, that being the lovely Vancouver, being a place that is pretty easy to film in and a cheaper (by a couple of cents when you get down to the exchange rate) alternative to the city of angels, I’m presuming. This is all just a means of introducing this week’s fine slice of cinema End of the World, a film that crawled its way into the realm of the TV movie back in 2013. It’s not just any TV movie, though. It’s a SyFy TV movie which means it’s gonna be something special indeed. Starring Greg Grunberg, formerly of Heroes, in the lead role and the man with the craziest eyes in all of cinema, Brad Dourif, we get a rousing story about friendship and compassion that can be found between a human and a dog made completely of fungus that only wants to be loved. Wait, no, this is a movie about the end of the world. Sort of. I’ll get to that shortly.
So stop me if you’ve heard about this before: a small group of people with a very specific set of skills and knowledge realize that the world (or at least the part of it that they care about) is in danger and only they can stop it! Though they are dismissed as both crazy and stupid, they go on to defeat world class military intelligence to bring about the end of the threat and, thus, they are able to move on to another day. Now imagine that small group is reduced to a few video store employees with a penchant for apocalypse films, the token girl, the token asshole and the sacrificial lamb with no discernible skills or personality and you have the cast of End of the World. This, friends, is a film that doesn’t even try to take itself seriously and neither should you. But should you watch it? Well, let’s take a dip in and see if life in the shallow end of the horror pool is worth the trouble.
First of all, we’re running a little light on characters here. We have them but they are less characters and more like action figures that you get to see move around on their own and provide their own sound effects. Owen, played by Grunberg, is the owner of the video store and though he’s given some extra bits of dialogue that hint at him doing things, mostly he’s just our most sympathetic nerd who quotes disaster movies. We open with him getting chastised by his girlfriend, Selena, for having no ambition and no interest in anything but his nerdy passion projects. Also he forgot her birthday because we’re going with that trope too. Enter our token asshole and future satisfaction kill, Max, who is trying to get into Selena’s pants. I would go into more of his character if there was one but Max basically exists to be a huge dick to Owen and his two employees. And those two employees? They are Steve and Leonard, mama’s boy extraordinaire and sacrificial lamb respectively. After we establish that we’re working with a paint by the numbers kind of cast, we introduce the first instance of the plot and the ball gets rolling into predictable territory from there. Where this diverges from your expectations (sort of) is that we have protagonists who actually know what’s going on! The entire rest of the film hinges on our savior nerds facing off against a very specific catastrophe that’s set to destroy the world if they don’t stop it. All of this while quoting films at each other and using this as a means to wink at each other and the audience.
Okay so if this hadn’t been about seventeen years too late for the Scream bandwagon, I would say that this self awareness might be mindblowing but yeah, that ship has all kinds of sailed and sent postcards. To be fair, the film kind of knows that and decides to go with the trope in the only way that it still works: homage. Take every disaster film that you can think of and I’m sure a few you have never seen and I’m certain that the writers of this film went out of their way to find a way to squeeze in a reference or a nod to it in here. In fact, that shoehorning of pop culture references is exactly what our heroes’ big skills are for the most part in the film. Sure Owen has some weird degree that comes in to save the day to fulfill the cliche but that’s hardly what his real specialty is. When the plot is attacked by CGI explosions, he and Steve are the leaders of their little group only because they have this obsessive interest in nerdy movies and books.
If you’re thinking that this sounds an awful lot like the cast of The Big Bang Theory got dropped in a disaster movie, you’re not far off. The only real difference is that Owen is far more likeable than Sheldon and the others have far less of a difficult time following him as they try to figure out how to save the world. No, the real difficulty comes from both the rest of the cast and the audience as we collectively continue to follow the strained thread of logic that is Owen’s plan. What is that plan? Get comfy because we’re going on a journey into kindergarten logic here, friends.
Brad Dourif’s character, it seems, was once upon a time a military man who wrote books about disaster scenarios that he culled from his real life experiences with army intelligence. At some point, our poor crazy eyed military doctor said too much and suddenly found himself incarcerated in an asylum. I’m pretty sure in real life they just send you to court martial and then to jail but this isn’t a film about real life. This is a disaster film that asks the question of what it would be like to be one of the Goonies without being as endearing and with way more at stake. And unlike the Goonies, our heroes are prepared to deal with those stakes in ways that completely diminish any tension before it gets too interesting. After all, Owen knows exactly what to do at all times. I mean, who wouldn’t think of finding a niche writer that could help them figure out what to do to stop the CGI disaster that is raining upon them? And why yes of course Owen happens to know where Dourif is. Granted he didn’t exactly know where in the asylum he was being held but thankfully we’re running on convenience logic so he wasn’t too taxed by the journey from idea to figuring it out. From there our good doctor gives us just enough information for our heroes to figure out how to make a bunch of science magic happen and, of course, there is a time bomb added in. Sure there was that whole end of humanity thing to worry about first but as long as they can play with a bomb that’s set to a ticking clock, we can still justify an ending that means either victory with ice cream sandwiches on top for our heroes or complete annihilation of the entire planet.
If the flippant tone isn’t coming through strong enough, I’ll just say that this film, while still pretty well acted for the most part, leaves a bit lots to be desired when it comes to characters. I haven’t given much of a description of them because there’s not much to say about any of them. Dourif’s is about the only one that really shines through but they don’t give him nearly enough to do as the supposedly mad but not really all that mad doctor. He really does his best in it and that is partially why I am still giving this a recommend even if this is a lukewarm review. But to truly sum things up, I would have to say that I recommend this more for the fact that this is exactly what you want in a disaster movie. It’s got all the cliches that you could hope for. It’s got all the stock characters you could want. It’s got everything you want to see in a film that is about the destruction of the world. Due to lack of budget, it doesn’t have the cliche of the major iconic landmarks of the world getting blown up or crumbling but it’s a Syfy movie at the end of the day and you’re not here for world ruining spectacle. No, you are here for acting on the level of Sharknado and plotlines that have about the same amount of coherence as a story told by a toddler who keeps getting distracted every couple of minutes.
I think if I’m being totally honest, this is really what I enjoyed about this film. It’s true that you know how it’s going to end, even if you don’t know how it’s going to get there but this is one of those movies that you watch for the journey. And it’s a journey I admire for exactly how bat shit it is as well as how innocent it can be. It’s like watching a movie that took all your fantasies of being a superhero when you were a kid but made them about adult you working a dead end job and being frustrated by the difficult realities of having to be a grown up. Here, this is just straight up make believe bullshit logic and all manner of character traits set up to project onto a cast that you already knew everything about before the first CGI electricity ball hit the ground.
It’s true that I would never tell you that this is a good movie but it’s a fun one with a decent amount of smarter cheekiness hiding behind the cliches. It’s got all the best aspects of a popcorn movie but with a bit more hiding in the subtext like easter eggs for the nerds in the audience. Occasionally it will draw the line right to the reference for you because it’s secretly worried it might be getting too smart for you. But unlike pure popcorn movies or bad films that are mostly cough syrup fever dreams, this one still takes the time to get all those little nods in your direction, random movie goer. You might not pick up on all of them but that’s not the point in the end. They put them there as a means of letting you know that someone like a friend is in the film with you. They know you’re there and they give you just the hint that they’re happy you’re there. And that, ultimately, is what’s endearing about films like this one.
So while this does nothing to stop you from lamenting your path in life at four in the morning, we can all appreciate a little bit of a breather from life for a while. So if you can find it, I still recommend sitting down with your popcorn, turning off all the logic centres of your brain that will inevitably start to question the plot and enjoy watching an avatar of yourself enjoy a little bit escapism for a while. Because at the end of the day, this film, whatever its flaws, is not another bloody zombie apocalypse film that does the same things that Return of the Living Dead perfected in all its absolutely perfect glory. For that alone, you should watch End of the World, even if it does have its water wings on in the shallow end of the pool.
And that wraps up another Friday Nightmare! Thanks again, as always, for joining me and come on back on Monday night for another instalment of the fiction series Dream Dolly! Until next time, here’s wishing you pleasant Nightmares!