Film Review: John Dies at the End
WARNING: If you have made the conscious choice to submit yourself to this film, then be prepared to throw out the window any sort of sanity, or perceptions of coherence you might have gathered through years of movie-watching.
John Dies at the End is an insane-“stoner-friendly”-deranged-satirical-gory horror-comedy based on a comic book. This mash-up of ideas is achieved without a jarring flux in tones. As strange as it might seem, the film kind of makes sense within its absurd context. Discovering what that context is becomes the actual odyssey. Chase Williamson is David Wong (yes, despite what the deceiving title implies, John is not the main character) is a young “dude” who seems to never have fit in around his peers. Even before he started slaying demons he was already an outsider, but we will get to that part, kids.
His best buddy John (Rob Mayes) is what can be defined as a “tool”, which deems David the brains of the operation. We meet David at a Chinese restaurant as he retells a zombie-beheading episode to an eager journalist named Arnie (Paul Giamatti). Bizarre enough yet? You don’t even know what’s coming.
David’s story is shown in a series of flashbacks that attempt to explain the supernatural experiences occurring to him and his entire town. According to this “Ghostbuster-like” guy, the source of all evil is the physical manifestation of paranormal activity in the form of a liquid drug know as “Soy sauce’. John, as someone who is not destined to be a rocket scientist, is curious enough to try the strange substance when given by a Jamaican drug dealer, who looks like a psychic version of Bob Marley.
This event unravels a plethora of situations that will have the audience thinking, “What in the hell is going on in this movie?” However, this shouldn’t be taken as a negative, rather like a mind-blowing experience. The film is certainly entertaining, and oh yes, very unpredictable. Not for a second can anyone image what can happen next to these unlikely heroes. Don’t believe it? Well, if anyone has ever fantasized abut an alternative word that seems straight out of the set of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, or maybe a monster made out of an array of meat cuts (sausage, ribs, steak, pork chops, you name it), or perhaps an evil flying mustache? That person is in luck because all those rarities can be found here.
It is hard to even try to find anything to compare this film with, but if it’s necessary to give some reference, this film could be seen as a mix between the gruesome sweetness of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, plus the visual style and nerdy dude masculinity of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. There are plenty of penis jokes in here as well. Regardless of the savage imagery (e.g. exploding bodies, beheaded zombies, eyes popping out of skulls), there is a lovable quality about the main characters.
The duo seems like they really care for each other, and that all in al they are good people. Good people facing the depths of hell of course, but nevertheless, good guys. Such an attribute is precious in a film like this. The chemistry between the leads inspires a believability which holds the irreverent story grounded.
Writer/director Don Coscarelli delivers a metaphysically complex plot with the sensitivities of a teen comedy mixed in with a lot of witty geek-approved references. His diverse and extraordinary set of characters and monsters is destined to make this an instant cult classic.
An added bonus is the quotable phrases, ridiculous sarcasm, and again the great casting decisions for the lead. Sure, these two are not Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix, but they play their comic-book characters with lots of humanity. All of the above packaged in a darkly comedic story with great production makes for a crazy movie experience that rarely comes along.
Arguably, even a film like this falls into some known territory that keeps it from being an excellent film. Having said that, for what it is, the film is an uncanny melting pot of nightmares, sexual innuendo, and some freakishly unique characters.
Final Verdict: John Dies at the End presents itself with a spoiler for a title, but deviates from the norm of what a genre picture should be. It is fun, refreshing, totally messed up, yet one of those amazingly gratifying guilty pleasures one might enjoy sober, or for even a more extreme revelation under the influence of “soy sauce” (or any other hallucinogen found in this dimension).