From the widespread fear that the repeal of Net Neutrality would eventually force us to pay a dollar for every Google search to the misguided belief that Matt Patricia would turn the Detroit Lions into an equally fearsome version of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots dynasty, recent human history is filled with incorrect predictions and wild overreactions. But few false alarms rang louder than the Y2K frenzy, in which much of the world spent 1999 panicking that the new millennium would cause the technology that powered our society to instantly stop working once years started with 20 instead of 19. The fear was grounded in some semblance of reality, but any potential catastrophe was averted when the world’s top computer programmers worked together to resolve the problem before we closed the book on the 20th century.

But if the only lasting legacy of Y2K is the inspiration it provided for Kyle Mooney‘s debut feature, the whole ordeal might end up being remembered as a net positive for humanity. Combining the youthful raunchiness of “Superbad,” a detailed nostalgia for the era of video stores and AOL Instant Messenger, this playful sci-fi spectacle splits the difference between early “Stranger Things” and “The Terminator,” with immaculate soundtrack vibes courtesy of Fatboy Slim and Chumbawamba. “Y2K” might be one of the most natural crowd pleasers that A24 has ever produced.

It’s December 31st, 1999, and all Eli (Jaeden Martell) and Danny (Julian Dennison) want to do is party with the popular kids and lose their virginity. But while they’ve spent countless hours discussing their high school crushes over AIM chats, the two gawky equipment managers of the women’s basketball team find themselves sitting at home watching “Junior” on VHS. But when the depressing realization that they’re spending the biggest party night of the year watching Arnold Schwarzenegger prepare to give birth through his ass hits them like a ton of bricks, they muster up the courage to steal some booze and head to their first house party.

Eli is particularly interested in talking to Laura (Rachel Zegler), the popular girl who doubles as a computer genius that he’s convinced is his soulmate. But their early flirtations are cut short by a brief power outage that derails the party just as the clock strikes midnight. Yep, Y2K is officially on.

Mooney’s vision of Y2K is far worse than anything that even the biggest fearmongers in 1999 had in mind. Rather than simply stop working, every electronic device (including those with zero connections to global computer systems) develops its own conscience and sets out to destroy all the humans in its sight. Kitchen blenders start ripping off penises, toddler toys embark on manhunts, and computers begin to rebuild themselves into Frankenstein-like androids that can walk and talk and beat the living shit out of humans. Not even main characters are spared from the initial bout of violence, making it abundantly clear that this brave new world is a life or death situation for everyone involved.

The film often feels like a feature-length version of the first 10 minutes of an apocalypse movie, showing the world as it slowly collapses while the skeleton of human society remains intact. As our teenage heroes try to put a stop to the computer invasion before it’s too late, they team up with “The Fanatic” director and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, who gives a hilariously self-deprecating performance as a fictional version of himself that’s unaware of the influence his nu-metal beats have on emo teens and senior citizens alike.

While “Y2K” has more than its share of laugh-out-loud lines and big cinematic moments, the film thrives in the little details. Rather than indulging in “Rick Dalton Pointing at the TV Screen” moments, Mooney doles out his nostalgia by alluding to the subtle ways life has changed since 1999. Obvious jokes about VHS porn and slow internet connections are funny enough, but the real comedic brilliance shines through in understated gags like teenage stoners feeling moral outrage about Bill Clinton’s sexual impropriety and the kids’ insistence on abbreviating Limp Bizkit to “Limp.”

Mooney and screenwriter Evan Winter seem to know exactly what kind of movie they have on their hands — so if plotlines like the romance between Eli and Laura seem underdeveloped, it’s only because they wisely opt to cram as many funny moments as possible into the film and end it before overstaying their welcome. A computer apocalypse was never realistically lurking underneath us, but “Y2K” is a reminder that the return of the high concept comedy always was.

Grade: B+

“Y2K” premiered at SXSW 2024. A24 has yet to announce a release date.

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