‘John Dies at the End’ (2013) – or does he?

19 Feb

John Dies at the End posterJohn Dies at the End is the spoiler-ific film adaptation of David Wong’s book of the same name, and I’m slowly realising that summarising it is no easy feat. Basically, two slacker-type dudes stumble upon this drug (a fuzzy, apparently sentient black mush known as ‘soy sauce’) that, when taken, allows them to see into the future, and through other dimensions. The film is intentionally confusing, but is it actually any good?

I’ve spent about twenty-four hours at this stage trying to determine my thoughts on this movie. I didn’t quite get it, but the film makes it perfectly clear that its logic is intentionally and paradoxically enigmatic, so do I detract points for convolutedness if Don Coscarelli wanted me to feel this way? I have come to the conclusion that I, like the movie itself, am just going to roll with its weirdness, and appreciate it for what it is – a babbling melting pot of insanity, violence and hilarious special effects.

This movie is an amalgamation of so many genres: one minute its giving off campy horror film vibes, the next blood is gushing 1980s’ ‘video nasty’-style, the next they’re dimension-hopping and talking to men in tinfoil suits. A keen sense of comedy underlines every moment of this film; it takes itself about as seriously as any viewer could ever hope to. What could have been a nauseatingly pretentious hipster circle-jerk turned out to be an only vaguely ironic rollercoaster ride of genre-bending and dogs driving trucks – its unadulterated sense of fun saves it from the depths of the highbrow, thick-spectacled wastelands.

Chase Williamson (who I’m certain is some hybrid of Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Duhamel some film-loving mad scientist conjured up) plays an awesome lead role as David, while the John of the title is one Rob Mayes. Other well-known actors abound, though can be underused: Paul Giamatti is barely used save in the slightly-clunky but necessary framing device, and Glynn Turman (of Gremlins fame) has a semi-recurring role. The effects vary wildly from Evil Dead II-style puppeteering (no laughing moose heads though, unfortunately) to a laughably low-budget CGI-animated Cthulhu-type monstrosity. The arrival of the space men is so horribly done that I genuinely burst out laughing!

But is this a criticism? Frankly not; the wildly varying quality of the effects, combined with the sheer randomness of the script and dialogue, only add to the surreal charm that John Dies at the End exudes. What with the film revolving around the theme of drug-taking, that all ends don’t quite join up serves as a metaphor for the drug abuser’s frame of mind in general. Is the ‘soy sauce’ an allegory? Yeah, for LSD maybe, though I can’t fathom any deeper meaning right now. The novel upon which the film is based is even more ambiguous about the drug’s meaning, as the movie is too busy turning door handles into flaccid penises to worry too much about the specifics.

But I’m probably (read: definitely) reading way too far into this. John Dies at the End is a film which joyfully relishes in its silliness in a way akin to a pig’s amour for manure. Better than the majority of Coscarelli’s movies (still doesn’t quite beat The Beastmaster, however), this film is definitely worth a looksee!

Simon says: ingest something illicit and rent this movie now!

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