I’m gonna cut to the chase with this review (because having watched John Dies at the End I know what it’s like to be screwed around and have your time wasted): this film is disappointing. And it’s a shame, because I really think that the wonderful sourcDon Coscarellie material could have been adapted into a fantastic mini-series.
Based on David Wong’s cult web-serial-cum-novel, John Dies at the End follows David Wong (Chase Williamson) whose best friend John (Rob Mayes) dabbles with a new street drug called soy sauce. This drug, however, doesn’t just alter one’s perceptions, but allows one to actually break across into other dimensions. What follows is a very very loose plot concerning demons, an evil sentient computer, and the impending apocalypse.
One of the only remarkable things about John Dies at the End is that I can’t think of any film that I have such mixed feelings about. Every aspect of this movie (the visual effects, the performances, the comedy, the action) veers from pretty good to terrible, back to good and then terrible again (sometimes several times during a single scene). There are lines of dialogue that are hilarious, but there are also some that limp out of the actors mouths like cold spaghetti.
The films biggest problem is that, although parts of it could accurately be described as ‘hellishly entertaining’, overall it is undeniably televisual. There are things in it that would be forgivable (expected, even) on television, but on the big screen are no more than cinematic faux pas. I refer not only to the cheap visual effects, but also to certain scenes that don’t entirely cohere with the plot. If this were a 12 part series (or even a 6 part series) there are plot points that might have been explored to the point of comprehensibility. At times I felt it could have been the kind of show Joss Whedon would have made 10 years ago.
The film also occasionally demonstrates that same furious energy that defined early Raimi films. The problem is almost that it’s not consistently cartoony enough – there is a gig scene, for example, that feels utterly utterly flat. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World showed audiences just how successful a movie could be in terms capturing that energy of a live band; John Dies At The End makes a rock gig feel like a chore. Further problems come late on in the form of some totally and unequivocally gratuitous nudity, which is made worse by the camera lingering on the women whilst largely ignoring the men.
Overall it’s a mess. For some (whom I suspect will largely be stoners) I’m sure it’s an enjoyable mess, packed to the brim with punk-philosophy and icky special effects. For the majority, however, the viewing experience will inevitably prove tiring and tiresome (even the great Paul Giamatti’s appearance can’t save it). John Dies At The End is genuine cult film, for better and worse.