Movie Review: John Dies at the End
Rating: R (bloody violence and gore, language, drug content, nudity)
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2013
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
"John Dies at the End" is a smart, snappy film that is less about the spoiler in the title and more about alternate realities. Dave (Chase Williamson) has been able to experience those alternate realities ever since he accidentally injected himself with a drug called soy sauce, so named because it resembles the salty black liquid. Just one drop of the sauce gives him powers that include the ability to travel from one reality to another. Each of these realities has a set of enemies that Dave and best friend John (Rob Mayes) must fight.
Dave is fairly sure that nobody will believe what he and John are experiencing, but he still calls up journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) to try and convince him to write a story about their adventures. Unsurprisingly, Arnie is not convinced that anything Dave tells him is true, especially since Dave admits to taking drugs. Arnie is game for a good story though, so he humors Dave and sits down to take notes about how he travels between these various universes and the shape-shifting creatures he encounters and battles. Most of this part of the film is told through flashbacks as Dave gets Arnie up to speed about what has happened and what might still happen in the future. Arnie is completely skeptical at first, but he slowly begins to open up to the possibility that Dave might be telling the truth. The expression on his face slowly changes from slightly exasperated to wholly engrossed as he begins to fill the pages of his trusty notebook with some of Dave's narrative.
Dave and John both seem to love their drug-altered states, but then they uncover a plot that would allow Korrok (Kevin Michael Richardson), an alien creature, to jump from his current universe into present-day Earth. Dave begins to fear that Korrok could be after the planet's resources, including humans. In order to ensure the safety of the planet and everyone on it, he must try to close the portal that would allow such a jump to Earth. The two friends devise a risky plan to stop Korrok. Although the audience already knows that John is a doomed man, it is fun to see him prepare for battle and go in knowing what the stakes are. He and Dave are two very unlikely heroes, especially because they are both still high from the effects of the soy sauce. However, if they come off the high, they will lose the power to jump from one universe to the other.
"John Dies at the End" is full of surprises, not the least of which is that John is not the main character in the film. It focuses much more on Dave than John, which serves as an early warning of sorts to the audience that nothing is as it first seems in this film. The many twists and surprises are arguably the best part of a movie that is full of unexpected goodness. The fact that the film is so unique made it hard for the producers to find financing initially. Giamatti, who is an admitted horror-film buff, had to sign on not only to star but also to serve as an executive producer in order to secure funding.
The source material for the film's screenplay is a series of Internet stories by David Wong, the pen name of Jason Pargin. The series of stories began to get so many page views that St. Martin's Press bought the print rights so it could be published as an actual book. Despite the fact that it had physical copies published, the Web series still has a very independent feel to it. The film has a similar indie spirit, using a shoestring budget to produce some fairly impressive special effects.
Despite the fact that the ending has already been spoiled, director Don Coscarelli is counting on viewers still wanting to pony up the cash to watch the film. Moviegoers who are familiar with Coscarelli's excellent "Bubba Ho-Tep" will probably line up to pay, because they know exactly what the auteur director is capable of. His past films expertly combine comedy, horror, and even some fantasy elements in a way that few directors can achieve. He has moved far past his horror roots and become the director to go to when film fans want something different. Those fans will get a big dose of different, along with some scares and a heap of laughs, from "John Dies at the End."