Rachel Zegler battles a killer Y2K bug in A24’s feeble throwback comedy


Source: SXSW


Dir: Kyle Mooney. US. 2024. 93mins

It could have played like Maximum Overdrive meets Booksmart, but Kyle Mooney’s overworked, raunchy teen horror comedy Y2K is too consumed by the past to mean anything substantial in the present. One final night in the old millennium for two high school boys turns deadly when the clock strikes midnight, bringing all the doomsday fears of a superbug into reality. The alluring retooling on a common conceit, this time replete with 90s allusions that run the gamut from ’Thong Song’ to Tipper Gore, never develops into an original story, circling the drain around nostalgic jokes that soon lose potency.   

 Too consumed by the past to mean anything substantial in the present

Y2K premieres at SXSW, after which A24 will hope it satiates the young cinephile demographic who have become loyal supporters of the studio. This is another high-concept apocalyptic jaunt aiming to graft the same people who tuned into Bodies Bodies Bodies and turned Everything Everywhere All At Once into a smash hit. Yet the film, written by Mooney and Evan Winter and produced by Jonah Hill, lacks the strong characters of the former film and the smart world building of the latter.  

It begins with a blast from the past – an AOL logo on a Mac screen filled with AIM chat windows belonging to the nerdy Eli (Jaeden Martell), who is speaking with Laura (Rachel Zegler), a popular girl at school with mad tech skills who inexplicably happens to be friends with this self-described loser. His partner in crime is another amiable teen, Danny (Julian Dennison). Eli and Danny are a heartwarming duo, depicting a close-knit friendship that is an early highlight. They are picked on by everyone from jocks wearing puka shell necklaces to a hip hop gang. One of their few sanctuaries is a video store owned by a local stoner (Mooney) and in the daydreams they conjure of finally getting laid. 

These early scenes mostly survive through winking references to the technology, music, and fashions of the 90s. Even Alicia Silverstone, playing Eli’s mum, is among those callbacks. When Eli and Danny decide to attend their town’s NYE party, we are lulled into believing this will be a common ‘one crazy night’ type film. But Y2K peaks by subverting that expectation, turning the house party into a gory, frenetic freakout featuring glorious Final Destination-level kills by pieces of technology, like a dishwasher or a ceiling fan, that have suddenly come to life by way of a bug and are determined to kill humans.

Between the original designs of robotic monsters and the visceral mix of digital and practical effects, there is a welcome playfulness to the bloody onscreen violence. While the scene teases the possibility of Y2K becoming a wild, unpredictable thrill ride, a misjudged twist involving a sudden death causes the film to lose a necessary innocence it never regains. 

The screenplay then dithers from one inert set piece to the next. Eli, Laura and their unlikely friend group venture to the disused town factory to meet up with Laura’s engineer boyfriend (Mason Gooding). They find relative safety there, away from technology, learning about a central computer intelligence that is calling their high school a home base for its plans of human domination. To save the town and possibly the world (it’s never wholly clear if other areas are being besieged) the group ventures to the school to stop the AI takeover, wandering aimlessly through the woods and causing this already rehashed premise to grind to an excruciatingly dull pace.

During Eli and Laura’s journey, the film struggles to develop their relationship beyond listlessly hitting normal teenage ‘will they or won’t they’ beats. Their romance remains insipidly flat and predictable through the entire run time, despite Martell and Zegler possessing real sincerity. When the biggest character growth is everyone learning the popular girl is really smart, you’ve got a problem larger than a robot apocalypse on your hands. Mooney also spends precious time that could have been used to develop his characters mugging for the camera with a stoner persona that quickly loses its charm.

Which speaks to the larger problem of Y2K – it too often uses good ideas that could have been short skits as scenery chewing bits that overstay their welcome without ever advancing the plot, characters, or world building. A Limp Bizkit joke is first run into the ground, before being squashed, rolled, and misshapen into a cudgel used to beat viewers into believing any of these protagonists are remotely interesting. 

This is a nostalgia play composed of admittedly funny and gnarly moments that do not string together into a satisfying whole. For a film about technology, it has nothing new to say about our dependence upon social media, the escapism of a glowing screen at our fingertips, or the oncoming spectre of AI. Mooney is merely saying we’re so addicted to our tools, we might as well be slaves to them. It’s a thought-provoking message that, along with grunge and butterfly clips, lost its originality about 24 years ago.  

Production companies: A24, American Light & Fixture, Strong Baby

Worldwide distribution: A24

Producers: Jonah Hill, Matt Dines, Alison Goodwin, Chris Storer, Cooper Wehde, Evan Winter

Screenplay: Kyle Mooney, Evan Winter

Cinematography: Bill Pope

Production design: Jason Singleton

Editing: David Marks

Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Main cast: Rachel Zegler, Jaeden Martell, Julian Dennison, Lachlan Watson, Daniel Zolghadri, Mason Gooding, The Kid Laroi