John Dies At The End – Review
January 11, 2013 Leave a comment
Film Review by FilmFellaHenry – 7/10
Time travel, zombies, tentacled horrors and a talking dog are just a few of the ingredients jammed into the mad cap new flick John Dies At The End. Adapted from Cracked.com author David Wong’s same titled novel, John Dies At The End tells the story of Dave (Chase Williamson) and his plunge into a surrealist nightmare that pits him and buddy John (Rob Mayes) against an encroaching extra-dimensional invasion.
A long time fan of the Phantasm series, I’ve naturally been itching to see cult director Don Coscarelli’s new foray into the bizarre. While not a perfect director, Coscarelli is certainly talented (at 25 he wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited and even starred in Phantasm) and is capable of more than just horror pulp, as his last film Bubba Ho-Tep showed. My interest was piqued further after reading an insightful Cracked.com article by David Wong, potentially making John Dies At The End a great start to 2013.
Racing through a fantastic little opening that poses a question both profound and largely irrelevant, John Dies At The End quickly introduces us to Dave, a guy we see reading minds, predicting the future and fighting monsters made entirely of meat. Relaying his incredible story to journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti), we jump back in time to encounter a very different Dave, who’s scepticism of the supernatural is only outweighed by his average Joe qualities. This quickly changes after a chance meeting with mystic Robert Marley (Tai Bennett) at a party, an encounter that renders his friend John a hysterical mess of paranoia and himself a newly made psychic smacked out on some crazy black drug (creatively named Soy Sauce). And that’s all in the first 30 mins.
John Dies At The End’s strength is its fast, action packed pace that hurtles through a strong concept idea, repeatedly hurling weirdness at the audience. The narrative, which draws on elements of A Scanner Darkly, Evil Dead 2, and even Bill And Ted, compliments this oddball nature with such features as time travel, cross-dimensional exploration and a general irreverence for the laws of physics. It also manages to achieve a good balance between providing enough information so that everything roughly makes sense, while avoiding over-explanation and thus retaining a sense of mystery.
Similarly, there are a host of quirky characters that march to the off beat tune: from possessed white gansta wannabe Justin White (Jonny Weston) to overblown showman Dr Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown), a self proclaimed magician who can actually perform magic, they all feel right at home amidst this world of absurdities. Even the slightly unhinged cop-on-the-edge Detective Appleton (Glynn Turman), seems to belong here, despite being a parody of an already exhausted archetype.
But ultimately, a reliance on eccentricity and flourishing the strange can only see a film so far. It quickly becomes clear that while Coscarelli’s work is certainly interesting and often unique, there is a distinct lack of finish to the film. Sometimes the comedy is hilarious, sometimes it just falls flat. Intriguing characters pop up oozing with potential, only to be under used. Narrative points often wander into realms beyond the film’s budget, when they should have remained in safe, affordable territory. All understandable flaws for a debut film, but by now I would have thought Coscarelli would have matured further as a film maker.
I guess what’s so frustrating about John Dies At The End is that all the film needs is a bit of polishing. The story, structure, characters and jokes are all there, just not executed to their full potential. Of course it’s easy to criticise from the comfort of the couch, nonchalantly spewing reasons why the film didn’t live up to an overblown expectation… yet I earnestly want Coscarelli to improve as a director as I believe the horror world would be worse off without him. A little self analysis of his own creative weaknesses and perhaps drafting in a few more bods as consultants would probably go a long way to improving future films.
All in all, John Dies At The End is a pretty enjoyable flick that I do recommend. If you can avoid over-indulging your inner critic (I lost that ability years ago) and immerse yourself in the wackiness, I’m sure you will find John Dies At The End to be a fun, amusing horror comedy that ultimately entertains.
And let’s not overlook the reassuring presence of Angus Scrimm popping up for a cameo – at least there’s still hope for Phantasm 5.