John Dies at the End Reviews
"Just so you know... They're sorry for everything that's about to happen."
The best way I could go about trying to describe John Dies at the End would be to call it a trippy mindfuck of a horror/drug/comedy/sci-fi film. This isn't your typical movie you throw into the DVD player to kill some time. It has a mind all its own. It has originality, inventiveness, and it knows how to make its messy plot come across with a weird sort of genius precision that could only come from a certain type of mind. Trying to describe this plot would be like trying to describe an acid trip; it's not going to happen. Basically you just have to give yourself to the ridiculousness that is John Dies at the End, and let it take you where it will.
I can see why there's a lot of people out there that can't stand this movie. It's off the wall, outside the box, deranged, twisted, and oddly prophetic. It's a movie that is going to have a small audience, but the people who populate that audience are in for one hell of a fun time. From Giamatti's performance as a writer talking to one of the guys who is on the drug to the endless absurdities of a plot that has snail like alien creatures popping up everywhere, a bratwurst that can serve as a telephone, a dog that can drive, and all the different dimensions and time differentials.
Like I said, this isn't for everyone and it isn't one that I would necessarily recommend to anyone unless I knew for sure that they had the taste for it. In the end though, John Dies at the End was a pleasure to watch and an incredible, trippy experience. It's one of those movies that seems like it was made for anyone who has seen something that isn't really there while under the effect of something.
The story is a bizarre one, and I didn't quite know what was going on until about two-thirds of the way through. I did not watch the preview prior, didn't read a stitch about the film or the book. This year (2013) I am attempting to see more films, watch ones that others recommend and view the ones my readers have asked me to take a look at. John Dies At The End opens January 25th, 2013 in theatre but is available on VOD now which is how I saw the film - in the privacy of my home.
Now, what can I say about the film? It reminded me of Naked Lunch and possibly The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai - although it's been 20+ years since I have seen either of those films, or maybe watching John Dies At The End screwed around with my head. So, don't hold me to those comparisons. This film is just so bizarre, and when I think of bizarre, sci-fi/fantasy movies and the feelings they evoke, those two films pop in my head.
I would catorgorize John Dies At The End a sci-fi film but it is listed as a fantasy, comedy, horror. It is comedy but I wouldn't really call it a horror. It's creepy, yes. There are strange creatures that infest people; and there were a few moments where I had to cover my eyes but it was more about the grotesqueness of what was on screen not that it was scary. To me, this was a buddy story where drugs were consumed and the valley between real, not real or where other worlds consist only if you are one of the chosen (when you see the film, you'll know what I mean) is very hazy - especially for the viewer.
One of the main reasons that I watched this film was for Paul Giamatti. He is one of our finest actors that is not in enough films, in my opinion. I also found out that he was one of the executive producers of this particular flick. The director may sound familiar to you: Don Coscarelli. He also wrote the screenplay which was adapted from David Wong's novel (John Dies at the End). And for those you who
don't recognize Coscarelli, let me list a few of his others films: Phantasm (and all the sequels), The Beastmaster (and its sequels), The Rules of Attraction and Bubba Ho-Tep. Yes, these are all cult-classics for the most part and can see why he was chosen to direct John Dies At The End.
So, quick synopsis - a couple of college drop-out are introduced to a drug called Soy Sauce and they are chosen to pretty much protect our world from other strange ones that no one knows about or can see unless on the drug. However, the drug isn't a normal one and only allows some to have the power. We are along for the trippy ride with these unlikely heroes. No more details. This is one you just have to check out for yourself to learn about the odd storyline.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I really don't know if I liked it or not. So I am going to give it an average score. This will either become another cult-classic that many adore or will quickly fade into obscurity. And I may change my mind, either way, but for now this was just a so-so story for me, but I have a good feeling many will really like John Dies At The End.
Review: 5 out of 10
Horror and comedy are probably the two most difficult genres to pull off. Combining the two is generally a recipe for disaster and that's the case here. Coscarelli, known mostly for his fun debut 'Phantasm', achieved a good balance between the two recently with 'Bubba Ho-Tep' but fails to make it work in his latest effort. 'JDATE' can be best described as 'Men In Black' for stoners and is every bit as bad as that sounds. Giamatti, a huge 'Phantasm' fan, had wanted to work with Coscarelli for years. It's a shame their collaboration had to be this garbage. John may die at the end but that's further than most viewers will make it.
The film may be mighty stylish and comical, but by no means is style and humor placed over substance, which makes "and" breaks the film's engagement value in oh so many ways, for although this film's story concept is unique and intriguing, with a lot of entertainment value and more intelligence than you might think, it's arguably a touch too fluffy for its own good, and no matter how well-done this interpretation of a naturally improvable narrative may be, it's hard to get around natural limitations in meat, especially when storytelling fails to actually make things better. I don't guess this film needs all that well-rounded of a mythology, but really, I can't help but feel as though there's some undercooking to this plate, which is all but rid of immediate development, as well as lacking in gradual exposition, taking only so much time to soak up what depths it has, and, for that matter, stay calm enough to keep the intentional freneticism from getting carried away, sometimes to an overbearing point. Sure, on the whole, the brisk pace at which storytelling runs simply livens thing up, yet it all too often gets carried away, and while there's not exactly any real dramatic weight to meditate on, when momentum picks up, it has a tendency to wear you down, maybe even convolute, though not as much as questionable elements to plot structure that extend beyond pacing. I've heard the film's fairly unconventional plot structure called well-realized, as well as all over the place, and for me, the final product's structure falls somewhere in between those two extremes, offering a focused frame story, to be sure, but placing around it intentionally incoherent and nonlinear plot layers and segments - a few of which feel like not much more than mere filler - that aren't as unfocused as many are saying, largely because they're deliberate, yet remain questionable in a lot of ways. The offbeat storytelling often works, but really, it generally does little other than reinforce a sense of aimlessness, while reflecting an ambition for uniqueness and effectiveness that is itself reflective of how there is only so much to be ambitious about with this project. There aren't really too many problems with this film, it's just that this is what it is, and what it is is unique and nifty, maybe even pretty fun, but outside of that, there's only so much to truly compel in this competent, but often questionable project whose ambition, combined with pacing and structural problems, emphasize natural shortcomings for the final product to go secured as kind of underwhelming. The film stops just short of rewarding, but man, it sure comes close, being ultimately held back primarily by natural shortcomings, but sharp enough departments to keep you invested in the conceptually questionable story, which, even then, plays a considerable part in crafting a reasonably intriguing flick.
Again, it's natural limitations in compelling meat and weight that hold the final product from a truly rewarding state, and some intentionally questionable areas in the interpretation of such a story doesn't exactly help, but at the same time, the film wouldn't be as enjoyable as it ultimately is without an interesting story concept, something that this effort really is anchored by, offering a narrative that is offbeat in basic concept and structure, with a well-drawn, nifty mythology, intriguing, even rather intelligent complexities, and, last but not least, fun layers, brought to life by what is done genuinely well in Don Coscarelli's script. Coscarelli, as the screenwriter adapting David Wong's offbeat tale, personally gets to be a bit too offbeat for his own good, at least when it comes to the unconventional plot structuring, but on the whole, he delivers, probably more than expected, limiting fat about as much as he can with a film this intentionally bloated, while offering colorful set pieces and a possibly outstanding sense of humor, anchored by razor-sharp, whiplash snappy dialogue whose tongue-in-cheek wit and audacious color prove to be effective in a way that ranges from pretty amusing to, well, something that you just have to be there to see and thoroughly enjoy. On a general standard, this film isn't all that outstandingly well-written, but as a comedy, it's downright hilarious, and for that, credit is due to both the sharp humor and, of course, the mediums for the humor, the performers, who bring colorful, if undercooked characters to life with across-the-board effectiveness that is particularly sharp within such unevenly used supporting players as Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown and Glynn Turman, as well as within leading man and newcomer Chase Williamson, whose thorough charisma and layered effectiveness as a bright young man who gets way too deep into disturbing and unusual situations that he gradually comes to embrace are arguably revelatory. Williamson pretty much carries the film, and that's mighty impressive for an unknown actor, yet he's still only one of many onscreen talents who help bring this film to life, which isn't to say that potential isn't most done justice by the offscreen performances, at least as far as style is concerned. On a technical level, the film is imperfect, offering pretty weak digital effects, but meeting them with excellent practical effects, while also offering ruggedly handsome cinematography by Mike Gioulakis and exceptionally snappy, if sometimes frantic editing by Donald Milne, as well as Don Coscarelli himself, who, as director, plays with the technical value of this film with enough inspiration to craft well-realized style that does a lot to define this lively effort. Style plays a pretty sizable role in storytelling, but in order to really keep the film going, at least as borderline compelling, Coscarelli is going to need to know what he's doing with atmosphere, and sure enough, Coscarelli delivers on a brooding atmosphere that makes the more intense moments genuinely suspenseful, in spite of fluffiness that, when really celebrated through brisk pacing, often overbears, but even more often sustains liveliness, maybe even fun. There's a lot to compliment here, and that makes the natural shortcomings all the more frustrating, because there's only so much to make the final product truly rewarding, but through inspired style, acting and storytelling behind a unique and interesting story, the film stands as a pretty enjoyable sit.
When it's time for John to die, or rather, the end, you're left with a promising film whose limitations in potential, stressed by underdevelopment, some exhausting freneticism in pacing, questionably intentionally incoherent plot structuring, and overall overambition, the final product falls short of rewarding, but through clever writing, - highlighted by very effective humor - strong acting, and inspired direction that features anything from fine style - anchored by fine practical effects, handsome cinematography and razor-sharp editing - to generally effective plays with atmosphere, behind an at least unique and interestingly complex story concept, "John Dies at the End" is left to stand as a thoroughly entertaining, if improvable dark comedy.
2.75/5 - Decent