Monday, January 14, 2013

Open Your Mind with John Dies at the End: A Movie Review

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Director: Don Coscarelli.

Writers: Don Coscarelli and David Wong.

Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Jonny Weston, Jimmy Wong and Angus Scrimm.

This reviewer saw Don Coscarelli's Phantasm (1979) for the first time last month and the film was a delight. Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) was also memorable. This director's latest feature, John Dies at the End, is also enlightening, but very strange. This film deals with altering reality with mind bending drugs. Meanwhile, characters Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) try to resolve a universal mystery. Needless to say, this title is full of surreal moments that deal with experimentation and the results are sometimes hit and miss.

John Dies at the End starts as a buddy movie. John and Dave are two friends that try out a new drug called Soy Sauce. Soy Sauce enhances their mental abilities to the point that they can foresee future events, travel to alternate universes and read the minds of others. Oh yeah, John can also speak after dying from an overdose. These new abilities allow them to confront and defeat an alien creature named Korog. Along the way, there are talking dogs, hotdog cell phones and possessed rappers. All of these elements create for several surreal moments.

The whole tone of this film is one of awe and wonder. John Dies at the End is unpredictable and this title seems to bounce around in the earlier parts. But, the film never seems to find an anchor in all of the strangeness. It is as if, John Dies at the End is meant as a hallucinogenic drug trip. The film is an experience, rather than a standard linear horror tale. Some of those experiences involve the dissolve of sets. Dogs drive cars, while supernatural doorknobs appear in the darkest of recesses. All of these displays create for an interesting visual sphere, but the story seems to falter here and there.

There is only one element that is left. What of the film's meaning? While this title is meant as entertainment, there seems to be a psychedelic element to the whole film. Coscarelli and writer David Wong seem to be promoting the experience of altered realities through drug use. This proposal is neatly wrapped in a buddy movie, where events seem to continually work themselves out. Experimental, John Dies at the End connects with other worlds and realities. The results are not always convincing.

This psychedelic thriller released through video-on-demand in January and this title is for those wanting something from out of left field or outside of the box. This is a film that bends reality with its characters, settings and storytelling techniques. So, John Dies at the End is unconventional and often experimental. The final results are a little lukewarm, but this film is consistently entertaining.

Overall: 7 out of 10 (good dialogue, strange, open to interpretation, unpredictable).

*this title is similar to Beyond the Black Rainbow, but with more comedy.

The film's fan page is here:

John Dies at the End on Facebook

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