Sundance Review: John Dies at the End


I won’t say something ignorant like, “John Dies at the End is a impenetrable mess for fans and cinema lovers alike.” I’ve seen the IMDB score and I get it: This is one of those film adaptations that fans will likely eat up, while others will wish they had an entry way into the madness.

Then again, if madness is all you ask for maybe you’ll like it too.

John Dies at the End
Director: Don Coscarelli
Rating: NR
Release Date: TBA

Being based on a cult novel is always a promising attribute for a film to have and John Dies at the End doesn’t disappoint in that respect. It’s full of ideas. Perhaps, too many ideas. The film opens with a bizarre anecdote (think Mallrats) that brilliantly sets the tone: It’s mad, brutal, and goofy as hell. The rest of the film follows to an excessive degree.

Based on Jason Pargin’s novel, John Dies at the End is like Naked Lunch, Donnie Darko, The Matrix, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy all rolled up into one drug too potent for most to take in one sitting. The story begins simple enough: there is an alternate reality full of undead and evil vermin that can only be accessed by users of an obscure drug known as Soy Sauce.

Dave (Chase Williamson) is our guide into this world, along with his companion (who dies at the end) John (Rob Mayes). They make this reality of mustache vampire bats, hotdog cellphones, and pick-up truck driving canines kind of, sort of believable. When it’s not believable, it’s at least fun. John and Dave trade quotable burns and observations that keep the film fun, even when it losses you down the rabbit hole.

Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) brings an old school horror vibe that fits the material wonderfully. The goofy CGI and gross-out practical effects work. It’s nice to have a horror film without all the cheap scares, for once. By the end though, you’ll wish the story was a little more grounded. The plot is told through an interview between Dave and a skeptical journalist (Paul Giamatti). The journalist could be our window into this world, but instead he is only a bit character in this complex web of nonsense.

For the first half, all the non sequiturs and randomness makes for a fun, unpredictable adventure. Eventually, the film lost me and all I wanted was it to slow down and explain its world rather than burrow through it. I imagine it’s easier to take in, in text form, especially since you can take your time as you come across the “WTF?” moments. As a film, however, John Dies at the End is a dense, muddled mess that will appeal to a few through means that will isolate many. Come with the original material in mind or come very stoned.