SXSW 2024: Y2K Provides Goofy Millennial Comfort Food for the End Times That Never Were

One of the more significant horrors of growing older is feeling your own past becoming the fodder for so-called “period pieces.” After all, it’s not like the turn of the millennium and the panic over the Y2K bug was that long ago. Don’t make me look at a calendar.

However, the upside of this distance is that now with enough distance, my nostalgia is now packable back to me. Case in point, Y2K, Kyle Mooney’s directorial debut is a self-described “dial-up disaster” comedy that imagines what if the worst case scenario of end of the millennium tension and paranoia came to pass. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as Mooney and his young cast perfectly recreate the tone and mood (or “vibe”, as we young hip people might say) of late 90s suburban youth culture.

Eli and Danny (Jaeden Martell and Julian Dennison respectively) are at the bottom of the social hierarchy of their high school, derided equally by jocks and skaters. But with the party of the millennium arrive on New Year’s Eve 1999, Eli and Danny plan to shoot their shot at moving up the ladder and for Eli to finally make a connection with his crush, popular girl Laura (Rachel Ziegler.)

Of course things go for the rails once midnight hits, the Y2K bug activates and all machines gain sentience. An uprising of technology to subdue humanity commences, thrusting these losers into their own Judgment Day. Picking up a messy crew of unlikely burnouts and cast offs, they attempt to rally humanity to fight against machine supremacy.

The filmmakers and stars of Y2K at the premiere

The interesting trick of Y2K is how it balances a comfortable brand of stoner buddy comedy with light horror elements to create a new film that immediately feels familiar. It is welcomes all comers to its intentionally silly view of the robot apocalypse, especially elder millennials for whom things like the TRL wars of the early aughts will feel immediately present. A theme throughout the film is how much pop culture consumption defines so much of these adolescents identity and place in general social stratosphere and how those barriers fall in the immediacy of actual danger. It feels immediately identifiable as a place in time, the last breathes of monoculture before the Internet causes everything to be too narrow for anything to ever break quite that large.

Ultimately all of that is table setting however, and what it sets up is an airy, familiar story about friendship in crisis and coming of age amid the end of the world. With its intentionally and often hilarious primitive visual effects and heavy use of cultural shorthand, it never really surprises with any large twists, one extended celebrity cameo notwithstanding. Rather it provides an immediate comfort movie, an uncomplicated techno end times flick that harkens back to a time before everything felt like it fell apart

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