It can be refreshing to watch a film that commits to its premise as thoroughly as new release This is the End – no snarky twist or waking up from a dream at the end, just a following through of the twin questions – what if all us famous actors played caricatures of ourselves, and what if we then had to survive the apocalypse? The result is pleasing in the main, an enjoyable, thoroughly raunchy horror-comedy lashed with self-satire, but certainly also suffers from weak spots and dry spells, and perhaps, just perhaps, a few too many phallus jokes.
The premise, slightly more expanded, is that Jay Baruchel is visiting his friend Seth Rogen in Hollywood to reconnect, and the two end up at a star-filled party at James Franco’s refurbished, and apparently highly fortified futuristic pad. This early segment features cameos and small roles left, right and centre, with Michael Cera nabbing the most memorable of these, as the worst type of film star, drugged up, arrogant, and lecherous, despite his often-noted boyish looks. After doing the rounds for a while the real plot arrives, as earthquakes and strange lights begin the apocalypse, and the sinkhole opening featured in the trailers results in Jay and Seth ending up barricaded in Franco’s house along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and, later, Danny McBride.
These stars all show impressive realism about their previous films, with efforts like Your Highness the butt of multiple jokes, and they manage not to go too far and seem smug about their poor movies making them as rich as they are. Despite Franco’s better average film quality, his hipsterish leanings and artistic pretensions are also repeatedly skewered, from the ridiculous installations he has dotted around the place to the way he sleeps compared to his comrades. The realisation of the idea that film stars do interact and cannot possibly all be friendly in the way their agents would have us think is satisfying to watch on-screen, and reliably amusing in the actors’ hands.
As the apocalypse carries on, the film makes it more and more clear that there isn’t some twist, and that this really is the biblical, Book of Revelations end of days, and settles into a balancing act between gore and humour, which on the whole works well. Characters are beheaded, impaled, and crushed, as the actors try to avoid a descent into hell, and work out how to attract the strange beams of light from the sky. The middle part of the film, as they hole up in the house, has a number of amusing scenarios, but the lack of movement and progress hurts the picture – though this is mostly forgiven by the conclusion.
What is perhaps less forgivable is one aspect of humour which the film never manages to stay away from for long; albeit within an end-of-civilisation setting, the film makes a repeated joke out of the idea that the demons, upon catching them, will exact punishment through rape – illustrated by the gargantuan penises of said demons. This is acceptable for a throwaway gag, but they use it a few times too many for it to feel entirely comfortable. Emma Watson intervenes on a misunderstood conversation about rape that is on the safer side of the line, and it provides one of the bigger laughs of the film, but the other instances, if concentrated upon, are more potentially troubling.
Overall though, the film provides laughs enough to justify a watch, and the commitment to the premise is endearing, as are the performances on the whole, and if some of the jokes fall flat in a mainstream comedy of decent length, all is not lost.