John Dies at the End (2013)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Running time: 99 minutes
You’d be hard pressed to find a stranger story than that of John Dies at the End. Oh, I’m sure there are stranger stories out there, but that would involve trudging through a massive deluge of the weird and wackiness that is the realm of absurd art, so let’s just save ourselves the effort and call John Dies at the End the strangest! Having only recently read the novel of the same name by David Wong (the main character, a pseudonym for Jason Pargin) on which the film is based, I will do my best to not constantly compare the film to the novel, as I believe a film adaptation should be able to stand on its own, but there will be comparisons that I must make and I apologise in advance! Anyhow, on with the show!
Now Showing this week is John Dies at the End, directed by Don Coscarelli. David Wong (Chase Williamson), a twenty-something slacker, has agreed to meet journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) to tell him the tale of himself and his friend John (Rob Mayes), who may or may not die at the end of this film, and their encounter with a new street drug known as “Soy Sauce”. After encountering the Sauce being peddled by a Bob Marley impostor, David and John have gained the ability to see things that others cannot; namely weird, grotesque monsters from places unknown! Armed with nothing but their wits, a seemingly too intelligent dog named Bark Lee, and the gifts of the Sauce; the two of them must discover where these creatures have came from and what on Earth they want in order to save the known universe…
As I said in the opening, this story is very strange. In order to properly enjoy John Dies, one must be willing to accept what is going on right away and search for explanations later, as many of the events in the film are quite random and can suddenly change at a moments notice. This fluctuating structure makes the film feel very rushed, as it barely sticks around in many given scenes as though it is trying to cram in as much as it can in its very short run time. Fans of the novel have some reason to despair, as this quick running time required a large amount of cuts from the story. The cuts were very strange, as the writers seem to have simply told the first third of the novel almost identically to as it happens, but then slightly rework it so they can skip right to the big reveal at the end. So there is a good two thirds of the original story missing, and as a result some of the final twists and turns (as well as a few of my favourite moments!) are cut due to lack of time to establish them. It was most certainly disappointing, but mostly from a “it’s different from the book!” perspective rather than a simple criticism of the film.
These narrative changes do affect the film though, in other ways than in the rushed pacing I mentioned before. As an example, a big reveal behind a mystery is not very satisfying if most of the mystery building has been cut from the narrative; and the ending of John Dies is very dependent on its audience having been enthralled by all the little teases being dropped in the lead up to it. But the film only has a single tease as to the antagonist of John and David’s plight, and it was very quick and easily forgotten and thus the reveal at the end lost a lot of its grandeur and meaning. I’ll stop harping on about the ending now, but suffice to say that the concluding realisation of the film was far too out of left field even for the subject matter. It felt more like a completely random explanation rather than the logical conclusion of all the events leading up to it.
The rest of the film, however, was quite a fun ride. The dialogue is the true star of the film, filled with witticisms and hilarious observations about not only the circumstances surrounding the Soy Sauce but also the world as we know it. Actors Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes do excellent jobs portraying the two lead characters, with Williamson absolutely nailing David’s awkward yet insightful nature, and Mayes delivering John’s larger-than-life, heroic stoner character with superb skill. A mention must also be given to Paul Giamatti as the skeptical journalist Arnie Blondestone, for his albeit minor role contains such an intense arc that many would struggle to pull off in such little screen time. But Giamatti is always such a skilled performer, I had little doubt he would struggle with the task. I also commend director Don Coscarelli for his handling of the content of the novel, regardless of the changes made. What he has kept on is presented with much more accessibility than I thought possible for such a strange, and internal monologue based, novel.
I guess I did compare John Dies to the novel more than I promised. Sorry, but I couldn’t help myself! I Serve you guys as best I can, but sometimes I have to go with my gut. And my gut does tell me that None of the drastic story changes ruin the experience for the casual viewer. I say give the film a look, But preferably in a movie night, with a group of people who have/haven’t read the book so talks about Korrock and his ways can happen in-depth afterwards! At worst, you’ll have enjoyed a crazy film!
See you next time!