Tuesday, February 12, 2013

John Dies at the End (2011)

Okay, time for some full disclosure stuff.  I planned to have this review posted a bit earlier, as I went to the Portland premiere of John Dies at the End on Friday night.  But, a long week at work, combined with my early shifts and a couple of pints before entering The Hollywood Theatre, I incurred a series case of the head nods and dozed off during the final act.

So, you might expect this review to slam the film for being boring, but that’s not the case.  John Dies is fun, innovative and contained more interesting time travel moments than Looper.  And the film was so engaging, I had to see what I missed, so I returned to The Hollywood on Sunday afternoon and watched the entire film while awake.

Besides, I couldn’t write a review of a movie I didn’t see through till the end.  That would be wrong.

The film opens at a Chinese restaurant as David Wong (Chase Williamson) is telling the story of how he and his friend John (Rob Mayes) saved the world from an otherworldly invasion to a reporter (Paul Giamatti).  David is using a new drug called Soy Sauce, which gives a person incredible insight into reality and time traveling abilities.  But some of the users come back as breeding stock for beings from another dimension, and David wants to get the story out.

And that’s the plot.  It seems simple, yet director/screenwriter Don Coscarelli weaves together a tale full of seemingly nonsensical twists and turns that become clear as the movie progresses.  No stranger to dreamlike movies, Coscarelli’s Phantasm series has the same hallucinogenic feel as this film.  And, like Bubba Ho-Tep, the audience wants to believe the hero, no matter how much the surrounding characters, and the ensuing events, point out the fallacy of this belief.

The acting is very subdued and fits the story.  Williamson and Meyes come off like a couple of losers thrust into an adventure they can’t comprehend, let alone influence in any way, fitting the feel of the film and it’s overall conclusion.  The rest of the cast, including Doug Jones, Clancy Brown and Glynn Turman, keep a straight face throughout all the craziness, leading the audience questioning whether the story is just David’s bad trip.  Only Giamatti cuts loose, as the final resolution for his character’s arc allows for it, and makes perfect sense for whatever conclusion the audience come to concerning David’s tale.

But the genius of the film comes from the script (based on an e-novel by author David Wong), as the audience is given hints that David’s story is suspect and could be the results of a bad trip.  As events unfold, the script is always fuzzy on whether the events David is relating to the reporter are real or not.  And, as with Bubba Ho-Tep, Coscarelli doesn’t try to persuade the audience, but gives them enough to decide if the characters are true heroes or just seriously delusional.

As author Wong has written a sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It, I want to believe David’s story, despite any hints that was all a bad trip.  It’s all in the hope Coscarelli will to make a follow up film and allow us to follow David on other world-saving, possibly hallucinated, adventure.  Because following him was much more fun than any financed Hollywood movie I've seen in a while.