A disaster horror comedy that’s equal parts Can’t Hardly Wait and Idle Hands, Kyle Mooney’s directorial debut Y2K is often hilariously sincere in its depiction of social and technological anxieties from the tail end of 1999. Mooney remembers all too well a world where promises of connectivity had not quite caught up with the technology. For those that were not ’90s kids, your mileage may vary and the premise of Y2K might seem confounding: why would a computer system rolling back the clock to 1900 be an issue?

Of course, the anxiety was very real––as documented in Brian Becker and Marley McDonald’s recent HBO documentary Time Bomb Y2K and in stickers from Best Buy telling consumers to shut their computer off before the clock strikes midnight. Mooney’s version bursts with the absurd creativity of a teenager sketching out a wild comic book scenario with his friends in a high school study hall, or recess complete with the anxieties over what that cute girl means when she says xoxo on AIM.

Written by Mooney and Evan Winter, Y2K begins with our hero Eli (Jaeden Martell) logging into his AOL account and watching Bill Clinton’s address before he’s interrupted by AIM messages from Laura (Rachel Zegler) and Danny (Julian Dennison) plotting their nights. Eli and Danny manage the girls’ basketball team and are lucky to fit in with many of the cliques by virtue of not fitting in anywhere. Zegler’s Laura is a basketball player who straddles the line between brilliant computer nerd and rebellious bad girl who steals alcohol from the local corner store.

Meanwhile, Eli’s parents prepare for a New Year’s Eve event at school. Robin (Alicia Silverstone) approaches the coming decade with hope; her husband Howard (Tim Heidecker), entranced with his new PalmPilot, fears he should have been preparing for months. Around town, the boys plan their NYE by hitting up the local video store and renting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pregnancy comedy Junior for their basement banger. Eli eventually flips and breaks the lock off the liquor cabinet. Cue Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” and the night is on.

Mooney’s attention to period details and anxieties are so painfully precise and hilarious I almost wish he continued down this path before Y2K spirals into an absurd stoner-horror comedy once the clock strikes midnight. The machines start to rebel, emboldened by the high school’s installation of DSL internet. What follows could have been a parody of the Internet of Things: anything with a computer chip starts to attack users, be it a nefarious blender or VCR that ejects Varsity Blues with lethal force.

Vibrant and often hilarious––with a surprise appearance by Fred Durst, who becomes a spirit guide to help the kids “break stuff” and save humanity––Y2K is far from perfect, but it does try harder than most comedies in its densely accurate portrait of an era of angst awaiting the nightmares of the 9/11 era. With deep-cut references to “President Blow Job” and Tipper Gore’s war on music, there’s a lot of love here, even as it occasionally goes off the rails. It’s rare a movie feels like the kind a creative kid might pitch to his other friends around the study hall table in 1999 after reading every headline. That is a testament to the raw energy of not being bombarded by adult instincts to push or pull too far in one direction.

Y2K premiered at SXSW 2024 and will be released by A24.

Grade: B

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