A problem that horror movies have is that the characters need to stay in trouble throughout the story. Screen writers have a tough time finding plausible excuses for this, and often resort to forcing their characters make lots of stupid decisions. In their latest film, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have found a brilliant way to ensure that their characters plausibly behave in an increasingly irrational way: The whole cast is stinking drunk through most of the story.
Wright and Pegg (Along with Nick Frost) are the team behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Like those previous films The World’s End is a self-aware genre comedy, this time taking a look at science fiction.
It has been nearly ten years since Shaun of the Dead, so it’s fitting that The World’s End is about a group of middle-aged men who return to their hometown and learn how much they’ve matured over the years. The filmmakers have grown enough to be introspective about their body of work and they’re aware that their latest movie is aimed at the manchild audience, but they have added some emotional depth to the story while still keeping in lots of drunken violence.
And not just drunken violence, this movie is about drunken everything! Simon Pegg plays Gary King, a middle-aged burnout who never grew up. The greatest moment of his life was twenty three years previously when he and his friends attempted a pubcrawl through all twelve bars in their hometown. Their failure to drink 12 pints in one night has haunted Gary, so he gets the gang back together for an epic binge through their teenaged stomping grounds.
Gary soon discovers that he is the only one who looks back fondly on the old days. His friends have outgrown him, gone on to successful careers and marriages. Once the five lads return to their hometown Gary realizes that the town has also changed over the decades.
The homogenizing effect of small town life and 21st Century business are a recurring theme for The World’s End. This starts off innocently enough when the boys discover that the twelve pubs in town have all lost their character and now look alike and serve the same beer. The townsfolk are also a bit off too. They don’t remember Gary and his friends, but there’s something even more sinister at work…
The big plot twist comes about one third of the way through the movie. At this point rational people would just leave town, thus ending the movie. However because the gang has downed five pints of beer, they end up making a series of terrible decisions that keep them in harm’s way throughout the rest of the story.
Saying just what that “harm’s way” is would spoil some plot twists, but The World’s End takes on some classic sci-fi tropes that will definitely appeal to long-time fans of this creative team’s other movies. Anyone who liked Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz will be pleased with The World’s End. Despite the more thoughtful tone there is still plenty of violence and comedy, along with comedic acts of violence.
Audiences who didn’t care for the previous works by Wright/Pegg/Frost might still be swayed by this latest project. It still has all of the juvenile silliness of their previous movies, but it also takes a good long time setting up the characters’ relationships before jumping headlong into the sci-fi paradigm shift. Each of Gary’s friends has some unresolved issue from their teen years, and only a trip back home can help them come to terms with this emotional baggage.
It makes a return to seriousness near the end too, when Gary and Andrew (Nick Frost) try to mend their broken friendship. In these more dramatic scenes Pegg and Frost have the chance to demonstrate how they’ve developed as actors, especially Frost who plays the most grown-up member of Gary’s gang, and the one who holds the biggest grudge against Gary for something that occurred in their younger days.
The World’s End is targeted toward the creative team’s cult followers, but this time around viewers will be challenged a little more. Have the fans grown up enough to appreciate a movie that is less focused on outlandish humor and more focused on the characters’ emotional journey? Have they outgrown the good old days of getting wasted and watching Shaun of the Dead? Hopefully so, because the filmmakers have definitely grown.