Hooray for low expectations! It's not that I expected End of the World to be an unmitigated disaster. I'm just realistic. When I sit down to watch a Syfy Original Movie, I think of films where unlikely creatures face off against each other (like Mega Python vs. Gatoroid) or the unholy spawn of said creatures face off against humans (Sharktopus anyone?) and establish a certain baseline for myself. Admit it, you do it too. The only difference is where your baseline lies relative to mine. Perhaps you love the schlocky plotting and cheap effects or you're repulsed by the shoddy production values and ham-fisted performances. I tend towards the latter but am happy to declare that End of the World is a nice little surprise that most fans of the B-movie spectrum can get behind. It's a silly disaster movie that knows what it wants to be and relies on its endearing performances and goofy charm to achieve that vision.
A film like this demands heroes. To that end we have Owen Stokes (Greg Grunberg) and Steve Palmer (Neil Grayston). Owen has a video store (Movie Shack ‘Disaster Lives Here') and Steve is his film loving pal who happens to work there. As you probably guessed, the store specializes in disaster movies since Owen and Steve fancy themselves experts on the subject. This expertise is promptly tested when weird blue electro-magnetic lightning bolts start raining down from the sky. The earth is getting scorched, people are being vaporized and massive ominous dust clouds are covering up all signs of civilization. The worst part is, this is just the beginning. There is something a lot worse headed our way.
Owen and Steve know of only one man who can sort this mess out. I'm talking about Dr. Walter Brown (Brad Dourif), a Department of Defense disaster mitigation expert turned Sci-Fi writer (don't ask). At this point, the film turns into a road trip as Owen and Steve make their way to the facility where Doc Brown (get it?) has been recently institutionalized. Of course, they're not alone in this. Owen's beleaguered girlfriend Selena (Caroline Cave) and his second cousin Max (Mark Hildreth) join in the apocalyptic fun. Along the way, they gain and lose other passengers, some under especially unfortunate circumstances (usually brought on by Max…did I mention that he's a major jackass? Well, he is.) It's going to be a tense ride as our rag tag bunch tries to save the planet.
It's a lot of fun watching a movie like this just work on its own terms. Our heroes are unabashedly nerdy about their pursuits. They may love movies but they looooove disaster movies. They pepper their conversations with quotes from them and when the dookie hits the fan, they fall back on their encyclopedic knowledge of these films to get out of sticky situations. In any other movie, I could see Owen and Steve being relegated to minor comic relief roles. End of the World has the good sense to put them front and center and remind us that they may be nerds but they are the ones who will eventually save the day. Owen and Steve are as lovable and fun as they are thanks to Grunberg and Grayston. They have a light touch with some of the more generic elements of the story while truly relishing the bits that let them go for broke.
Similar strong characterization extends to the other cast members. Selena isn't just a damsel in distress. She is a radio tech for the local radio station (a skill that comes in handy on numerous occasions). More importantly, she is placed on equal footing as Owen and Steve, taking many decisive actions and frequently saving the day. Caroline Cave brings a lot of intelligence to her role, especially when she has to balance out Grunberg and Grayston's zany energy. Dourif doesn't have a ton of screen time but he's a genre legend. Watching him have fun with his role is rewarding in and of itself. Hildreth does an admirable job of making you hate him. Every dickish move on his part will have you primed for his inevitable comeuppance.
I feel like I've used the word fun a lot in talking about this film but I can't help it. It's not a modern classic or even a terribly memorable genre entry. It isn't the sort of movie you tell your friends about months from now because it left such a strong impression. It is, however, the sort of movie you'll wholeheartedly recommend tomorrow because you had fun with it (there's that word again) and didn't hate yourself afterwards. I don't know if director Steven R. Monroe's film points to a new trend with the Syfy Original Movies (or if it's just an outlier) but I'd like to see more like this one. Anything so I don't have to sit through Mega Gerbil vs. Hamsterosaurus Rex. That's not a thing yet, is it? Please don't let that be a thing.
The anamorphic widescreen image is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image is clear enough with a fair amount of fine detail. Black levels are respectable if not outright inky. The natural color palette is accurately reproduced. Interior shots range from bright and cheery (the video store) to drab and sterile (Doc Brown's institution). Most importantly for a film of this sort, the special effects look more than passable. We're not talking about eye-popping displays of CGI wizardry but they never look shoddy or cringe-worthy. The electro-magnetic pulses and sandstorms look suitably otherworldly.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Dialogue comes through with clarity which is a good thing since so much of the film's charm lies in the quick verbal exchanges between characters. Environmental effects and the score also make their presence felt when necessary. The rear surrounds aren't pushed very hard but they certainly pop in when big calamitous scenes are going down.
We get NOTHING.
When it comes to Syfy Original Movies, many of them try too hard to impress with their brazen B-Movieness. End of the World happily bucks that trend. Its low rent charm is part of its DNA rather than being some sort of ill-fitting suit that screams for your attention. The lively and capable cast puts on a good show so that the film never feels like a waste of your time. It's still a slight film, unlikely to leave a long-lasting impact, but that doesn't preclude it from being a lot of fun in the moment. Recommended.