So much for spoiler warnings. Based 0n the book by the same name, comedic horror movie “John Dies at the End” inevitably dissolves into the stoner/sci-fi medley the title implies. But somehow it’s peculiarly enjoyable.
David Wong (Chase Williamson) is a sarcastic skeptic with a chronic case of stank face. His buddy John (Rob Mayes), however, is vivacious, rowdy and prone to dabbling in things he’d be better off not doing. Soy sauce, for instance. No, not the run-of-the-mill, sushi-and-chopsticks condiment of Asian origin. Soy sauce is a new drug that allows users to view and access alternative realities and creatures. Sounds awesome, right?
Except it’s not.
The drug, a liquid conglomeration of living organisms, tends to make its hosts explode. A slight problem. With time ticking, Dave and John navigate what may or may not be reality in their surreal, drug-induced state solving homicides, saving the world, getting the girl and most importantly, not dying. Kind of.
Directed by lesser-known cult horror director Don Coscarelli and originally written by Jason Pargin (a.k.a. David Wong) “John Dies at the End” swings back and forth between horror and the “Dude, what if…” genre. As in, whoever birthed the idea of this story was clearly high and his friends were clearly too baked to discourage him from developing it further (we’re looking at you, Mr. Wong). “John Dies at the End” went through its share of physical phases, first as a web series developed by Jason Pargin (senior editor of Cracked.com), then put together as a book and now adapted to the big screen. Coscarelli’s on-screen translation is cleverly written and visually appealing, but doesn’t stay ahead of the curve.
The plot is speedy and consistent for the first part of the film, but then takes a sudden left onto What the Heck Just Happened Blvd. and refuses to make a U-turn. Small, random details become both the novelty and bane of the film. Phantom limb syndrome’s ability to open ghost doors – makes sense. But meat monsters? Driving dogs? Communication via bratwurst? Really?
There’s enough gore to pacify the horror devotee, but the movie doesn’t know whether to take itself seriously or not. One moment it has the audience hiding behind fingers terrified to look at the screen, and the next it has them cocking their heads in confusion. Maybe it’s part of the soy sauce trip, this bipolar uncertainty. Maybe it’s hasty writing. And though its many chuckles are on point, the film makes it difficult to be completely engaged when it’s not even sure what’s it’s doing.
The propensity for consistently dumb absurdity shadows the movie’s capacity for greatness, typical of many “Dude, what if…” films. But for all its faults, the movie is nothing if not amusing.
Speakeasy Rating: B+
“John Dies at the End”
Starring Chase Williams, Rob Mayes, and Paul Giamatti
Rated R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content