John Dies at the End Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
DVD released by Magnet Releasing
Written and directed by Don Coscarelli
Based on the book by David Wong
2013, 99 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on April 2nd, 2013
Chase Williamson as David Wong
Rob Mayes as John
Paul Giamatti as Arnie
Clancy Brown as Dr. Marconi
Glynn Turman as Det. Appleton
On my first draft of this review, my editor sent it back with the note “What is this movie about?” Honest answer is I have absolutely no idea. But damn is it fun.
John Dies at the End is the story of David Wong, a lovable 20-something slacker type who gets involved in something way, way, way, way beyond him. His best friend, the titular John, comes into ownership of a drug of alien origin that sets off a series of events that are bizarre to say the least. A series of events that include a psychic dog, spectral projections, and a horde of topless models. The drug, called Soy Sauce, is naturally very dangerous and kills most who come into contact with it. But for some reason it “chooses” John and David as its emissaries in this world; allowing them to travel between dimensions and speak to the dead. For what purpose is still a mystery even after the credits role. Their leap across the space-time continuum ends with a dog saving the world. They see the dead but they can’t save anyone from a disastrous fate. Who’s even chasing them? Who’s murdering the police and reporters that know about Soy Sauce? These questions are never answered in the whirlwind of quips and walking meat monsters.
On a brighter note, Chase Williamson is perfect as our hero David. He’s as baffled as the viewer over the strange events occurring but takes it in stride. Rob Mayes could not be having more fun with his role as John and he is a delight to watch from beginning to end. Paul Giamatti’s Arnie is tragically on point as the reporter who can’t accept his fate. The dialogue is hilarious. The jokes are quick and plentiful but never indulgent or interfering. The plot is very clever and for once, I can say I have not seen anything quite like this before. The nearest I can imagine is A Scanner Darkly, but that was not even close to this funny, even with Rory Cochrane’s OD freakout. But where Scanner was easy to follow, this film is nearly impossible to navigate.
John Dies at the End stumbles with its frantic pace. It moves so quickly that it loses you in the rush to tell this story. Once watched and digested, you have a good idea of what the director Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm fame) was trying to say, but the end result is messy. It almost demands that you simply accept what you see without clear explanation. I can’t do that. Why on earth do they jump to another dimension if they don’t do anything while there? How are they making money with this ghost-busting gig they appear to run but never actually explain? Why were they even “chosen” by the Soy Sauce alien batter? The one avenue in which Mr. Coscarelli succeeded is now I am fascinated to read Mr. Wong’s original novel. As a writer for one of my favorite websites, Cracked, I’m sure he’s able to put together a far more cohesive story than this film. Now, to quote David’s girlfriend Amy, “My dog just bit some Jamaican guy, I have to go find him.”