The title tells us that John dies at the end. He does die, at some point. I’m quite sure. Was it at the start, middle or end? I dunno. I don’t even know when the film begins, or if in fact it ever does.
John Dies At The End is a post-modernist, demented devil spawn of a film vomited sporadically upon an unsuspecting screen. It follows two unlikely drug fuelled “heroes” David Wong and John Cheese as they embark on a time shifting journey to save the destruction of the world, or at least that’s what I think I gathered was happening. The plot (or lack of) is not really what director Coscarelli concentrates his attention on, instead opting to go for shock and style over any actual substance. The dialogue sometimes meanders into pseudo-intellectual ramblings and post-Matrix consciousness but never really goes deeper than the two slacker protagonists allow it to. Instead, I was more impressed with the exciting visuals that are thrown in our face. Demons, shadow monsters, ghost hands and absurd hallucinations are regular guests in the nonsensical world that we are exposed to. So much so that we completely suspend any sort of real expectations and surrender to the lunacy of the film.
If one allows themselves to completely cast off any conventions and expectations they would normally have whilst watching a film, then John Dies At The End is occasionally brilliant, frequently hilarious and an utterly absorbing piece of surrealist cinema.
The problem with John Dies At The End is that it seems so preoccupied with becoming a cult hit it eats itself whole. It’s so self-consciously oddball, that it stunts its ability in becoming something truly memorable and visionary and having not read the book in which the film is based on could have deterred my appreciation of the film to some degree. A lot of the jokes seem to imply a viewer understanding, a little nod or wink to an in joke makes it more explicit than implicit and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to fully understand the characters or dialogue.
I gave up trying to make sense of this within the first half an hour, fortunately for us, Arnie Bloodstone (Paul Giamatti), an investigative journalist who tries to piece together the story of Dave Woo, as he is brought along for the ridiculous tale long with the viewers. We then later find out that Bloodstone has actually been dead for the entire film and that he was in fact a black man who was projected to look like Paul Giamatti after Woo heard him on the phone. Surprisingly this was one of the more straightforward plot-lines in the film.
The narrative is almost always quirky, feeling negatively constrained by the manner of comedic pomposity in which it is delivered. I can’t help but feel if it was tempered slightly and allowed for more progression of plot that this could have been a grand eccentric journey in the vein of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Adventure but instead relied too much on psychedelic effects and ramblings that it offered up no more than a unique, and at times, hilarious cinema experience.
This is a film about determination, drugs, friendship, identity, fate, the end of the world, demons, phantom limbs, weird mask wearing cults, meat monsters, TV show clairvoyants… Ahh, who am I kidding, I have no idea what this was about.