"John Dies at the End" is based on the novel by David Wong (a pseudonym for author Jason Pargin). It's director Don Coscarelli's ("Phantasm," "Bubba Ho-Tep") first feature film in ten years. The horror comedy did make the rounds at certain film festivals in 2012, but is getting a limited theatrical run in certain markets in 2013 and is already available on demand. If you've never read Wong's novel, you don't really know what you're getting yourself into. Reception thus far has been mostly negative labeling the film as incredibly bizarre without much of a payoff, but that isn't entirely accurate. Speaking as someone who's a stickler for solid writing in cinema, this is a rare instance where a film can still be pretty enjoyable without everything making sense.
Dave (Chase Williamson) is sitting in a dimly lit Chinese restaurant telling his unbelievable story to a reporter named Arnie (Paul Giamatti) and it's a doozy. After Dave is able to analyze everything about the change in Arnie's pocket without seeing it and knowing every detail of the dream Arnie had the night before without Arnie even bringing it up, Arnie is eventually able to come to the realization that this is no normal story. When Dave was still in high school, his friend John (Rob Mayes) was in a band. At a party that John's band was playing at, Dave met a Jamaican guy named Robert Marley (Tai Bennett) who not only knew everything about Dave but seemed to know every detail about everything before it happened. That is how Dave and John were introduced to a drug known as "soy sauce," a black liquid which "opens their minds to s**t they've never seen before;" those are the words of Robert Marley. Overloaded with heightened senses, Dave and John are now able to communicate and interact with creatures that aren't from this world but have bigger problems to worry about like how to defeat a monster made of refrigerated meats or figuring out how to throw a headstrong detective (Glynn Turman) off their trail. Arnie has the story of the century on his hands as Dave's story proves to be a prime example of truth being stranger than fiction.
The erratic atmosphere and disorganized sense of humor makes itself apparent right from the very first frame with Dave's story about whether an axe is still the same axe if its had its head and handle replaced while killing a skinhead. Its messy pace takes some getting used to. The beginning of Dave's story where he and John try to help a girl named Shelly (Allison Weissman) deal with an abusive boyfriend that died two months prior is bizarre. Not only because of the subject content, but also because the chemistry between actors Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes and their desire to help those who've had problems with the paranormal is eerily similar to Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Sam and Dean Winchester on "Supernatural." As soon as you think that though, the film seems to steer in a completely different direction as Shelly explodes into snakes, a doorknob turns into male genitalia, and that refrigerated meat manifestation appears.
That's about when all of these recognizable faces start appearing; Clancy Brown as TV psychic Albert Marconi who's a lot like John Edward except Marconi actually knows what he's talking about, Angus Scrimm in a small role as a priest, and Doug Jones portraying a man from another dimension named Ryan North. You'll actually be left wanting more of Arnie (Giamatti) and Ryan North (Jones). Paul Giamatti is still able to steal the spotlight even though he's only a supporting actor here. His line delivery is just the perfect amount of over the top disbelief when Dave shows Arnie what he has in his car and Arnie's line about Atlantic City is laugh out loud funny. The film is literally overflowing with sarcasm. There's so much of it that you feel like you may have missed some of its wit in just one viewing. When you're not laughing about how ridiculous the film is its humor is sure to circle back around to make sure you laugh at least once during the film's 90 minute duration.
After you settle into the film's use of controlled insanity (it's like trying to throw a saddle on a tornado before attempting to ride it), you get used to its crazy pace and begin to enjoy it. The film is particularly pretty awesome until Dave and John go to another dimension and meet Korak, then it's just bat s**t insanity. The horror comedy gets even weirder than you'd come to expect from the first hour. Nothing about the film is predictable, so there is that to fall back on. But people who don't already hate the film will really hate it by the time the last twenty or so minutes come around.
"John Dies at the End" is really freaking weird. It's along the lines of Quentin Dupieux's "Rubber," but really pushes the boundaries of absurdity. With its flying moustaches, severed limbs with a mind of their own, having conversations with bratwursts, and a dog driving a truck through a house that's on fire, it's safe to say that "John Dies at the End" will go well over many heads and won't be appreciated and that's fine. Just remember that you don't choose the soy sauce. The soy sauce chooses you.