This Is The End – film review

This-is-the-End-2013-Movie-PosterIf you think that being trapped with  a bunch of guys telling dick jokes would the equivalent of Hell on Earth – well, according to THIS IS THE END, you are more right than you think – perhaps literally so. The vulgar humor of young guys who have yet to outgrow adolescence is shoved in your face whether you like it or not, but in an excellent example of eating your cake and having it, too, the film happily portrays its characters as hapless vulgarians who deserve the apocalyptic fate that befalls them. In other words, you do not have to like the characters or their sense of humor in order to enjoy THIS IS THE END. We are not laughing with them; we are laughing at them.
James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Johna Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson – along with myriad other familiar faces – play themselves, and not in a very flattering light. Baruchel (who apparently feels about Los Angeles much the same as Woody Allen does) makes a trip out to visit his friend, Rogen, who insists on attending a Hollywood party at Franco’s house. An earthquake or some kind of natural disaster hits, or perhaps it is something more, judging from the strange blue lights elevating bodies into the sky. Is is a massive alien abduction, or could it be The Rapture?
Taking refuge in Franco’s house, along with Hill, McBride, and Robinson, barricade the doors, divide up the resources, and attempt to wait out the disaster, but help may not be coming. Although initially skeptical of Baruchel’s suspicions that this is not a mere natural disaster but a literal, Biblical apocalypse, the survivors are eventually forced to that something downright demonic is going on.
ThisIsTheEndRedBandTrailer1THIS IS THE END belongs to that small sub-genre of films in which Hollywood celebrities attempt to earn brownie points by pretending to be as venal, crass, and self-absorbed as we suspect them to be -presumably, in the hope of convincing us that, if they really were privileged boors in real life, they would not have the sense of humor to attempt the self-effacing portrayals on screen.
Whether this is a con game or a brilliant comic ruse, the results are outrageously effective. Unburdened of the urge to create rounded, sympathetic personalities, THIS IS THE END instead serves up vicious caricatures, uncluttered with complications or subtlety, that shine off the screen with something resembling a hint of truth about the human condition – or at least a darkly satirical version of it. Nobility and moral quandaries are few and far between: when the sh-t hits the fan, you can bet it will be every man for himself; it’s just a matter of who will be the biggest douche-bag about it.

Emma Watson has come to chew bubble gum and kick ass.
Emma Watson has come to chew bubble gum and kick ass.

No one really comes across well. Even Baruchel’s level-headed straight man (he is supposed to be the viewer’s window into this world) is a bit too full of himself, not overtly self-righteous but as will as anybody to sell his comrades out when an opportunity presents itself. Only Emma Watson, who shows up briefly, earns much empathy, putting the smack down on these losers and ripping off their supplies after overhearing (and, to be fair, misunderstanding) a conversation about rape among the guys.
This is one of the film’s funnier sequences and not just because Rogen gets smacked in the face with an ax handle. Baruchel dares to raise the obvious issue of the situation (a single woman among half a dozen men); in an overstated case of denial, the others turn his concern against him, as if he were the one with rape on his mind. (The parallels with our current political discourse, in which people who raise concerns about racism and sexism are shouted down as if they are the real bigots, is obvious.)


This is the end the raptureFunnier still is the apocalyptic chaos that takes over in the third act. Like a good, low-budget horror film, THIS IS THE END is mostly restricted to the confines of the Franco house, offering us only judicious glimpses of the fiery Armageddon outside. Unlike many of Hollywood’s overstuffed blockbusters, this limited use of special effects renders the shots we do see even more special; by the ending, we get a few truly outstanding set pieces, the last involving what must be at least the second largest penis ever portrayed on screen (unlike most special effects monstrosities, this one is anatomically correct – though not for long!).
The sly joke at the end is that our characters finally learn how to redeem themselves. The problem is, once they know this can be done, they are still on the con, acting in a righteous way in hope of earning a get out of Hell card from the Almighty – a point made with ruthless precision when Franco makes the mistake of flipping someone off while on the point of being elevated to the heavens. His unfortunate demise (being eaten by a former-friend-turned-cannibal) is all the funnier when you recall that, earlier in the film, while brainstorming a bad idea for a sequel to THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, Franco had suggested an ending in which he sacrificed himself to save his friends, only to have the villain eat him. Prophetic words, indeed!


Jonah Hill - possessed by demons

In spite of the self-reflexive tone, THIS IS THE END will not suit everyone’s taste. The film may hold the crude antics up for ridicule; nevertheless, it indulges in those antics far too much for us to believe that writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are doing anything more than offering a slight buffer in the hope of making the antics more acceptable.
Fortunately, the buffer does work. Freed from the boundaries of good taste, Rogen and Goldberg present some of the most outrageously over-the-top comedy ever seen on the silver screen. It’s one thing to have a bunch of guys telling dick jokes all day. It’s quite another to see a towering demon emasculated by a heavenly blue shaft of light.
Now there’s something you don’t see every day!


Channing Tatum is Danny McBride’s bitch.
A Moderate Recommendation on the CFQ scale of zero to five stars.
This is the End sink holeTHIS IS THE END (Columbia Pictures, June 12, 2013) 107 minutes. Rated R. Written and directed by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen. Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Johna Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Aziz Ansari.

Legion (2010)

Action-Horror Meets Postmodern Angelic Apocalyptic

Legion (2010)In 1975 evangelist Billy Graham first published his book Angels: God’s Secret Agents. The book would go through numerous printings and inform popular angelology for Protestant Christians for years. In the 21st century angels are still the subject of interest in popular culture, but they are no longer secret, and with the film LEGION, they are not necessarily agents working in tandem with the Divine.
LEGION begins with the coming to earth of Michael the archangel, in rebellion against God because he has lost patience with humanity and has decided to destroy them. Michael decides to fight on the side of humanity, and as a part of that process he removes his collar (perhaps some kind of divine domestication device?), cuts off his wings, and thereby loses his immortality. After arming himself with the latest weaponry, Michael heads to a small diner in the middle of the desert where a waitress is pregnant with a special child. It is here that the battle for humanity will take place as God sends his angelic forces who possess humans and who thereby act as his agents of divine judgment. The end of the film brings a confrontation between Michael and Gabriel, instances of individual sacrifice both human and angelic, and lessons for God himself about mercy and compassion.
Prior to viewing this film the trailers gave the impression that LEGION would be more about action and gun-play than horror. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the film included a little more horror than hinted at prior to its release, but even so, almost all of the horror moments in the film were presented in the trailers leaving little for audiences to experience in theaters and in homes with the DVD release. Two of the more unsettling horror scenes are found in an old woman with razor sharp teeth who rips the throat out of a diner patron before climbing the walls and ceiling and dying from a shotgun blast, as well as an possessed ice cream man that turns into a monstrous creature with elongated limbs (played by veteran sci-fi, fantasy, and horror actor Doug Jones). The ice cream ma creature is scary enough to make any child think twice before flagging down the ice cream truck in the neighborhood this summer. Yet even with these horror elements the filmmakers seemed more interested in emphasizing action in this action-horror drama.
As might be expected in a film that draws upon characters taken from a religious tradition, in this case Judeo-Christianity, there are plenty of religious elements here for reflection beyond the obvious in terms of the angelic figures of Michael and Gabriel. This includes symbolism such as a cross-shaped hole that forms after an explosion in the door of a building from which Michael takes his weapons for battle, as well as one of the victims from the diner who dies while hanging in an inverted cross position, the same way in which Christian tradition says the Apostle Peter was martyred. Other religious elements include the name of the diner, Paradise Falls, and the inclusion of a child who somehow is desired by both of the archangels, one desiring to save the life of the child and the other wanting to kill it. The meaning of the child is never fully developed in this film, which is depicted more as possessing prophetic significance in terms of telling future humanity how to live rather than in messianic terms of deliverance. But this failure to flesh out an important element of the story, and one with religious significance, is a problem throughout this film. Numerous religious elements are included but they presented without much significance, indicating that perhaps they are intended to do little more than tap into the viewers lingering sense of cultural religious memory rather than being part of a new coherent framework for storytelling or a re-envisioning of traditional religious elements for late modernity.
This leads to consideration of the late modern or postmodern context of the film, particularly in the way in which it incorporates apocalypticism. Apocalyptic stories of humanity’s demise are expressed frequently in popular culture as we wrestle with the conditions that threaten our existence, from rogue nations connected to nuclear weapons to environmental challenges to the possibility of global economic collapse. Each culture and the religions within them include stories of beginnings as well as endings, and the West has been influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition in its consideration of how the end might come and what this might involve.
Legion (2010)With post-modernity comes a new twist: traditional sources of cultural narrative are reworked, and the source of the narrative itself is critiqued. As noted previously, LEGION draws upon the Judeo-Christian tradition, and it provides variations on its elements as well as critique of the religious narrative itself. One major example of this in is the way in which the character of God is portrayed. In traditional Christian theologies God is viewed as perfectly just and unchangeable, needing nothing from his creatures, but existing with all of his attributes in perfection. However, in LEGION Michael has rebelled because God has forgotten or is neglecting important moral aspects such as forgiveness, mercy, and sacrifice. Through Michael’s actions, especially in the giving of his life for humanity in his battle in the diner with Gabriel, he claims to have reminded God of these important moral qualities. Beyond this, Michael’s rebellion is more valued than Gabriel’s blind obedience to Divine wrath. Such a depiction of God’s nature will be unsettling for Christians who have a basic knowledge of traditional theologies, but it does provide a window into a postmodern critique of conceptions of God found in traditional apocalyptic.
In this reviewer’s opinion, LEGION is an average action-horror film that could have been better, but it could also have been far worse given the state of affairs in contemporary horror. Regardless of its quality as a horror film, it provides an interesting contemporary perspective on an apocalyptic narrative courtesy of the angelic-religious figures that have fascinated us for centuries.

Blu-ray & DVD Bonus Material:

  • Creating the Apocalypse
  • Humanity’s Last Line of Defense
  • From Pixels to Picture

Blu-ray Exclusive Bonus Material:

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LEGION (Copyright 2010; theatrical release January 2010; home video release May 11, 2010). Directed by Scott Stewart. Written by Peter Schink and Scott Stewart. Cast: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, Kevin Durand, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kae Walsh, Charles S. Dutton, Dennis Quaid, Doug Jones.

The Changing Face of Biblical Horror & Fantasy Films

Legion (2010)

Recent Hollywood horror movies exploit Biblical themes – but in a post-modern context far removed from traditional religious values.

Recently, Cinefantastique Online’s administrator-editor, Steve Biodrowski, brought an article to my attention from earlier this month and asked for my feedback. The article was “Hollywood heroes on a mission from God,” by Anne Billson, originally published in a publication in the UK, but I interacted with a republication in The Sydney Morning Herald. The article discusses the prevalence of “biblical themes” in many contemporary horror and fantasy films. The article is worthy of further commentary, not only because of the main thrust of the article, but especially because Billson is missing important dimensions of the subject matter that will be brought out in the following article.
Billson is correct to note that many contemporary horror and fantasy films draw upon biblical themes, symbolism, and imagery. In the early section of the article, she specifically mentions THE BOOK OF ELI, SOLOMON KANE, and LEGION. The influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition is evident in these films, and the others cited later in the piece, but this influence is not surprising given the long history of this religious tradition’s presence in the West.
Unfortunately, Billson largely fails to account for the cultural changes in the West and how this alters “biblical horror and fantasy.” Specifically, Billson does not address the shift from a Christendom culture, with Christianity occupying a more positive source of cultural influence, to a post-Christendom culture in which increasing numbers of people express skepticism of the institutional church. In the post-Christendom context, the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition is still evident, but it takes on a decidedly different twist. It is surprising that Billson missed this aspect of the subject matter, since her UK cultural context is very different from America’s in regards to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The absence of a national Christian conscience should have provided Billson with an alternative framework that would enable a different reading of biblical influences in horror and fantasy.
But what does this post-Christendom depiction of horror look like in contrast with a Christendom expression? At one point, Billson mentions depictions of vampires in horror in times past, and how “they were kept at bay with crucifixes, holy water and men of the cloth.” Yet this is the only sentence the author devotes to an important religious shift in horror. In the Christendom context, the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition is central, strong, and reverent. Good and Evil are depicted as a Christian dichotomy, bordering on the Manichaean; Christian symbols have great supernatural power (as evidenced by the cross and holy water in opposing the vampire for example), and the church as an institution with its clergy is presented in positive terms as agents of God opposing Satan and the forces of darkness.
In the post-Christendom context, this situation changes dramatically. I was reminded of this recently while watching 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. As the race of vampires continues its onslaught on the Alaskan town, they use an injured woman as bait to lure any humans out of hiding. When the ruse fails, the vampires turn on the woman instead. Realizing her impending fate, she falls to her knees and exclaims “Oh, God!” In response to her plea the lead vampire, Marlowe, mockingly looks up into the sky for any hint of divine rescue, only to look back at the woman and remark in matter of fact fashion, “No god.” In 30 DAYS OF NIGHT not only do we find an absence of the church, clergy, and Christian symbols, but the monstrous creatures deny the existence of God, or at least deny that a God is present who will provide any kind of deliverance to humanity from the forces of evil. The point to take away from much of contemporary horror is that, while it may be influenced by biblical and Judeo-Christian elements, the way in which these elements are treated is very different.
The postmodern context adds an additional twist that is especially evident in apocalyptic films. Billson rightly notes the popularity and prevalence of apocalyptic in cinema over the last several decades. But again, the way in which apocalyptic is depicted has shifted. In the 1970s, a film like THE OMEN provided Hollywood’s version of a popular Protestant eschatological scenario, complete with the son of Satan as the antichrist working through the political process to achieve world domination and thereby ushering in the “end-times.” Although many Christians would be more comfortable with those apocalyptic films produced by Christian companies such as the LEFT BEHIND series, THE OMEN drew upon elements of Protestantism in ways that would resonate with many in the culture in the waning days of not only Christendom, but also modernity.
In the postmodern context, Christian apocalyptic is still featured prominently, but the formerly inspiring narrative is subject to critique. This is especially evident in the recent apocalyptic-horror-action film LEGION. The underlying religious narrative for the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic in the past was that, after exercising great patience and love, God sends his angelic messenger to mete out justice upon a sinful humanity and perhaps upon the forces of darkness, which have gained power in the end-times. In LEGION, this underlying narrative is turned on its head. God has “tired of his children.” He sends his archangel Michael to lead in the judgment of humanity, but Michael rebels and fights on behalf of human beings against the archangel Gabriel and a fantastic horde of angelic warriors.
Even the title of this film demonstrates a postmodern twist. In the New Testament, the name “Legion” is the self-designation of the demons within a man exorcised by Christ. In the film, this name is applied to God’s forces massing against humanity. As Elizabeth Rosen writes in APOCALYPTIC TRANSFORMATION: APOCALYPSE AND THE POSTMODERN IMAGINATION (Lexington Books, 2008), “postmodernists have remained interested in the apocalyptic myth, even as they reject the myth’s absolutism or challenge the received system of morality that underlie it.” Postmodernists also challenge the received system of religion in which western apocalyptic finds its roots, that of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In a final consideration it is interesting to read some of the comments from Christian spokespersons in Billson’s article, regarding Christian influences in film. One states that Christians in the audience will welcome any film that “sensitively explores the stories of the Bible.” Another states that “biblically themed movies that herald justice, compassion and perseverance appeal to audiences.” Billson correct notes that the horror and fantasy films she has discussed in her article do not exactly come across like Sunday school material, but even so she states, “horror and fantasy have gone all biblical on us.”
Perhaps that is true, in a manner of speaking, but as good students of cinema and culture we must be careful to distinguish between the very different expressions of “biblical horror and fantasy” in the post-Christendom, postmodern context. Film critics, and especially clergy and church-connected institutions interacting with film and culture, need to do a better job of understanding the the continually prominent yet changing role of religion in horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
Note: This article has been revised since its initial publication due to a message sent from Billson regarding a correction needed regarding the source of the original publication.