A24 will release Y2K in theaters at a date TBD. This review is based on a screening at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival.

Well, it happened: I finally saw my uniquely American childhood vividly and embarrassingly depicted on screen. Kyle Mooney’s Y2K transports us back to December 31, 1999, when playlists were burned onto CD-Rs and pornographic images downloaded a few pixels per minute. Millennials remember how Y2K paranoia ended up being for naught, but Mooney imagines a world where rogue cyber consciousness indeed became a doomsday problem. Co-written by Evan Winter, this goofy A24 disaster comedy rages against machines, turning late-’90s nostalgia into huge laughs that rarely let up.

The film starts like a teen sex comedy about two suburban social outcasts, Eli (Jaeden Martell) and Danny (Julian Dennison). Neither seems content with their Nintendo 64-centric New Year’s plans, so Eli musters the courage to sip some crappy vodka and attend a classmate’s party. That’s where his computer-hacker crush Laura (Rachel Zegler) will be, along with the possibility of a midnight kiss. As the clock strikes 12, teens cease chugging from Solo cups to celebrate the new decade – and then it happens. This isn’t the widespread computer shutdown that Y2K-bug true believers warned of. Instead, electrical appliances and online devices start slaughtering houseguests, prompting Eli and his crew to seek safety away from the sentient Battlebots.

Mooney’s tenure at Saturday Night Live lays the groundwork for Y2K’s emphasis on amusement. It’s hardly ever frightening; given its lighthearted tone, the closest horror-comedy comparison point may be This Is the End. Wētā Workshop gives the movie some impressive monsters made of wires and screens, but Tamagotchis drilling holes in rave kids’ heads are hardly the effects house’s most fiendish creations. The scariest notion here is that 24 years have passed since “Thong Song” ruled the charts, and Y2K gives Mooney space to affectionately roast the millennium’s turn with a deluge of generational earworms. Unlike vintage AOL Instant Messenger sounds and rap-rock anthems, that gag never grows old. It’s no “Only ’90s kids will remember” gimmick: The computer desktops and dialogue inspired by the poetic lyrics of Fred “Break Stuff” Durst are rich in authenticity. We might have forgotten how weird and alien this era truly was, but Mooney hasn’t.

A delightful cast headlined by Martell and Zegler rolls with the punches (and beheadings) and has a firm handle on the film’s silly-sincere intentions. Y2K is a funny disaster flick, but it’s still a disaster flick, and the youthful cast manages to balance X-Games one-liners and life-or-death stakes as their internet-bred foes grow larger and more deadly – like a Katamari army absorbing more and more tech. The reliably enjoyable Dennison shines as a confident, class-clown type, while Martell plays awkward and geeky to Zegler’s endlessly charming cool girl. These three are the film’s grounding force, which lets supporting players like Eduardo Franco (playing a skater-punk-in-a-Tool T-shirt) or Lachlan Watson (as a Limp Bizkit megafan) ham it up. Mooney’s portrayal of a dreadlocked stoner video store clerk is right out of one of his YouTube videos, representative of the comedian’s chill-vibes approach throughout the film.

Past Mooney projects like the Sundance hit Brigsby Bear and Netflix’s Saturday Morning All Star Hits! recreate bygone pop-culture eras with seemingly effortlessness, and Y2K maintains that immersive sensation. An ensemble featuring Mason Gooding, Alicia Silverstone, and Tim Heidecker hits their end-of-the-20th-century stereotypes without feeling plastic or inorganic. Mooney and Winter lean into the absurdity of the period’s greatest tecno-anxieties with the same level of vividness Wētā brings to the walking, murdering gizmos revolting against serving humanity’s worst online impulses. Riffs on cheesy genre clichés like “intense” hacker montages or The Matrix-style boss battles are fodder for Mooney’s goofball approach. However, they still feel fittingly of the time (and are shot by none other than Matrix cinematographer Bill Pope) – the same goes for the film’s outstanding cameo pull. Y2K is a time-capsule crowd-pleaser first and a digital-singularity-uprising second. Remember that when you’re howling at long-game condom jokes instead of marveling at the intricate details behind the fall of civilization.

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