The World’s End 2013 Dir. Edgar Wright
If aliens came to offer a more perfect world, would you take it? No more war, no famine, no disease? It’s a difficult proposition to cast off. But the traits that drag us down as a species, may be the very things that make up our humanity. Invasion is a common theme in horror, from “War of the Worlds” to The Thing, we like to imagine our own destruction at the hands of outsiders. However, when we examine this theme of invaders, we’re really examining the problems with ourselves. One of the most intriguing horror films to examine the duality of human nature, as it is exposed to threats from without, is The World’s End.
The trilogy of films known now as “The Cornetto Trilogy” or the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” ended this year with the final chapter, The World’s End.. Although some may disagree, I stand firm in the belief that the three films that comprise this loose thematic trilogy are all horror films, yes even Hot Fuzz.
The thematic thread that runs through all of these movies, but culminates in the final feature, is that of maturity. However, Wright and company are quite adept at using the genres of horror, action and scifi to tell stories that deal with common struggles in the lives of average joes. At the beginning of the film, we meet Gary King, describing to us the most perfect night of his life, a drunken night with his mates the day he graduated high school. “It never got better than that” says Gary, as it is revealed that he’s in a substance abuse meeting. We’re meeting Gary at his lowest point, and the crux of the film rests on his plan to replay the best night of his life.
Like it or not, Gary is our protagonist, and despite being portrayed by the perennially lovable Simon Pegg, he is a sad a terrible man. He dupes all of his friends into a reunion back in their hometown of Newton Haven to retrace their steps along the “Golden Mile” pub crawl. Upon their return, they discover that their pubs have all been homogenized into sanitary Starbucks-like pop-ups. However, this surface level difference hides the fact that Newton Haven has been infiltrated by aliens, who have copied the townspeople into perfect, robot versions of themselves.
“Never look back Lawrence, the past is a wilderness of horrors.” – The Wolfman
This is where the horror of The World’s End comes into play. We’ve been mildly discomforted and amused by Gary’s antics up until this point, but when at a dance party at “The Mermaid”, it’s revealed that when people are assimilated, they become the most “perfect” version of themselves. “The Marmalade Sandwich”, three young women Gary and his crew new in high school, are presented as three beautiful eighteen year olds. There is something so tragic and horrifying about this scene, because it intimates that whatever growing these women did, is scraped from the record. They may be perfect, but they are no longer human. This dichotomy is echoed again in a scene where Gary comes face to face with a physical representation crystalized in his eighteen year old self. Of course, Gary rejects this false perfection in favor of the horror he has become. The scene does call back to “Frankenstein”, but who is the real monster? Is Gary better for submitting to the alien conquest, he is mired in the past and on his way to self-destruction, or is it better that he maintain his imperfections?
“At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” - Frankenstein
There is a tangible malaise that fills The World’s End that I’m not sure people were prepared for. Relationships are explored more deeply than in the previous two films in the series. Gary is tragic, but so are his friends. Though they’ve become adults, Gary’s mates seem genuinely broken over how their lives have turned out, could this be because they themselves still have unresolved issues? The film offers no easy answers and it certainly doesn’t cop out in the ending. Dark themes are explored here, beyond that of an invasion from space, in a way that I don’t think has ever been explored as honestly in previous horror films. Despite being someone you would never want to be around, we want to see Gary succeed on his quest to finish the “Golden Mile” and we are thrilled when he rejects the notion of assimilation despite what doom that may bring.
When we root for Gary King, we’re not rooting for a hero, we’re rooting for a monster-but he’s our monster with our hubris. Gary King is a bastion of our own humanity as horrific as that may be.
Watch the trailer HERE