Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Microreview [film]: John Dies at the End

The Meat

I can talk with Philippe if he manages to read the book, but from a quick stroll through the Wikipedia summary, it seems like the movie version of John Dies at the End diverges significantly from its source material. I get the impression that what happened was Don Coscarelli (who made the excellent Bubba Ho-Tep) did his best to take a funny, absurd, and surprising -- but deeply flawed -- novel with a really interesting idea at its core and turn it into something a little more coherent. But the result, sadly, is a funny, absurd, and surprising -- but deeply flawed -- movie.

And one that's hard to summarize, but I'll give it a shot. We begin with David and John responding to a late-night phone call from a girl they know who seems to be having problems with her dead boyfriend. It turns out her problems are more of the she's-actually-the-supernatural-one variety, and she turns into a monster who attacks them, in a scene that reminded me a lot of the underappreciated series Reaper. The girl-thing is ultimately dispatched by a phone call to TV psychic "Marconi," who will become more important later. I have no idea when in the disjointed narrative this first event is supposed to have happened, or when the two guys had time to develop weird supernatural-fighting weapons, but this is one of the problems in the movie. The present tense of the film depicts David sitting in a restaurant telling his and John's story to a reporter named Arnie. David takes us back to the beginning of the story, when John took a new drug called "soy sauce" offered to him by a strange Jamaican at a rock concert. John starts acting really, really weird. Then David gets picked up by the cops, because it seems the Jamaican and everybody who was with him were all consumed by flame shortly after the concert. Then David is accidentally poked by a syringe containing soy sauce, and he starts seeing very...strange...things... While also taking care of some girl's dog.

The idea here is that there is a drug that is essentially a supernatural virus. Once you take the drug, the doors of perception will slowly be thrown open to you, and you will begin experiencing more and stranger things that are outside of our regular understanding of the universe. It's a cool idea, but unfortunately it doesn't go to an ultimately satisfying place. I got the sense that the movie was falling into the familiar cult movie trap of trying too hard, and where Bubba Ho-Tep ultimately turned to the internal lives of its characters to ground the bizarre plot in an emotional reality, Dave and John are ciphers -- mid-20s slacker archetypes that are essentially non-entities beyond the plot points the story puts them through.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for soy sauce and some of the creepy revelations in the drug's immediate aftermath; +1 for the creepy Jamaican

Penalties: -1 for forgettable characters; -1 for an unsatisfying ending; and on that note, -1 for a good title that grabs you, but is ultimately misleading

Cult Film Coefficient: 6/10. Still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore.

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