Well wasn’t this a surprise… I wasn’t able to see John Dies at the End when it came out earlier this year and was able to just recently check it out on Netflix. Going into this, I was ready for the absolute worst. The cover photo had all the pictures of your standard ‘two dude friends beat up shit with blunt objects’. Pretty much just a lesser version of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil or a horror version of Dude! Where’s My Car? Boy, was I wrong. This may not be one of the best movies that I have seen this year, but it is definitely one of the best horror/comedy films that I have seen in quite some time.
The movie is a film adaptation of a book written by Cracked writer Jason Pargin under the pseudonym David Wong and features a fictionalized David Wong (Chase Williamson) and his friend John Cheese (another writer from cracked.com). The story itself is an interesting one and one that I find very hard to describe in an overall plot synopsis… But I will try my best.
The story is told in flashback as the character David Wong tells his story to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) and his story of how he obtained psychic powers and witnessed the paranormal parts of reality. After an interesting story that features a ghost girl and a strange golem made out of various frozen meats, David tells how he and John attended a rock concert and found themselves in possession of a strange new drug called ‘soy sauce’. David does not partake in the festivities and goes home, but John chooses to stay. Later David receives a phone call from John in a frantic state. After finding John and accidentally taking a dose of the soy sauce, After taking the dose, David finds out that he can now perceive time and space in a different way and can even hone in on different dimensions. He is later arrested by Detective Appleton (Glynn Turman) who informs him that everyone who attended the drug party besides John are now either dead or missing. The story becomes a sort of horror/comedy/mystery/thriller as David attempts to discover what happened at the drug party and what supernatural forces are at play all the while trying to find his girlfriend Amy (Fabianne Therese) who also attended the drug party.
That is the best I can do. I skipped over parts, I know. But I don’t want this whole thing to be plot synopsis so on to the pros and cons.
Here is a problem that I have with several ‘horror/comedy’ films… For the most part, these films tend to lean a little to heavy towards one side of the other. Sure each one can have some ‘funny’ parts or some ‘horror’ parts. But for the most part the tone of the movie is geared in one direction. Eight Legged Freaks for instance was a horror/comedy that was heavily geared towards comedy. The mood is light-hearted and jokey with a few moments of terror thrown in. A movie like Dead Snow definitely has some funny moments and the whole plot is goofy to be sure, but it has a more horror tone to it than comedy.
John Dies at the End is a film that is able to blend both elements in a way that feels balanced to me. There are moments of gut clinching hilarious and other moments of on the edge of your seat suspense. There are other films in the comedy/horror genre that have accomplished something similar to this… But it is an exclusive club and I for one feel that John Dies at the End fits easily into this club.
The Film Has an Identity and a Unique Story Behind It
Say what you will about this film, but this thing definitely has a unique identity to it. The only areas I can really classify it is horror/comedy and the whole ‘two dudes taking on the paranormal’ trope. Which even in those genres it is pretty unique. The film takes several twists and turns that I was not expecting them to take, but once I saw the direction I was pleasantly surprised by each of them.
The whole concept of the drug soy sauce is really fun and original and I love the side effects of it as well. Though the one line saying the soy sauce chooses you, I find to be a little bullshit but one line isn’t even on the nitpick level of criticism.
Anytime you walk in on the film though, you will know you are watching John Dies at the End. It is a film that sets itself apart from the pack, for better or for worse.
A Lot of the Story is Told in Huge Exposition Dumps that Can Get Boring
For a film that I just praised for being both gut clinching hilarious and edge of your seat thrilling… There are some parts that can get really boring. In particular anytime the film reaches a moment where massive amounts of exposition dump are needed to fill the audience in on the story that is going on around them. I haven’t had the chance to read Wong/Pargin’s book, but judging from previous experience, this is a problem with many book adaptations is moments of extreme exposition dump to keep the audience in on whats going on in the story.
I’m sure this is another area that is explored more in the film. But the romance between Amy and David is barely even a thing in this film and I feel only served the purpose of being the ‘romance’ of the film. I suppose this isn’t the worst crime in the world because Amy’s character and her dog Bark Lee do serve major purposes in the film and pushing the plot forward. But the whole relationship between the two characters just feels forced and not all that original.
Sometimes whenever you have an adaptation, certain things do need to get cut and if you are going to cut a major portion of a ‘romance’ that is really superfluous to the overall plot, then it is better to go ahead and cut the whole romance instead of forcing in parts that will confuse the audience at large.
This film is a lot of fun to watch. It is funny, it is scary, and it is unique. The acting is pretty decent and they appear to be having a lot of fun with their roles. There are some problems with it yes, most of which can be blamed on the fact that it is an adaptation. But in the grand scheme of things it never detracts too much the story at large.
Sure some critics will pick this apart and hate it (Hi Mick LaSalle). But that is to be expected from most comedy horror films. I say if you are a fan of the genre and have some free time, give it a watch.
Final Score 3.5/5
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