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Early Review: John Dies At The End Starring Paul Giamatti

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Movie still: John Dies at the End

Chase Williamson as David Wong in John Dies At The End.
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Movie Poster: John Dies At The End

John Dies At The End

Directed by Don Coscarelli
Screenplay by Don Coscarelli

Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Daniel Roebuck, Jimmy Wong, Doug Jones, Angus Scrimm

How long is John Dies At The End? 108 minutes.
What is John Dies At The End rated? R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content.

CLR [rating:3.5]

“John … End”s Up Fun If Underexplored

John Dies At The End is a fun little horror-comedy. Although not as ambitious, clever, or successful as this year’s earlier horror-comedy/emerging cult classic The Cabin in the Woods, Don Coscarelli’s follow-up to Bubba Ho-Tep offers much of the same type of enjoyment despite its smaller approach and scale.

Based on the book by David Wong, John Dies At The End stars Chase Williamson as David Wong and Rob Mayes as the eponymous John – two hunters of supernatural/alter-dimensional beings. The movie centers around David wanting to get his and John’s adventures out to the world by telling newspaper reporter Arnie (Paul Giamatti) about their lives, which involve a mysterious drug called soy sauce, a hacky television host/super-powerful hunter named Marconi (Clancy Brown), and many other things. The primary focus of John Dies At The End is their “origin” story, wherein our heroes acquire the soy sauce, interfere with a police investigation, and stop an alternate universe that wants to destroy our world. We also get glimpses of some of their other adventures through the memorable Riddle opening sequence and the Meat Monster segment.

This isn’t the type of movie where one should bog themselves down with logic. It might be unfair to say that the film doesn’t care about the details, but the ride is obviously more important than subscribing steadfastly to some set of Biblical rules. John and David’s abilities to find and fight evil probably come from the “living” soy sauce, the side effects of which include enhancing the takers’ senses; giving them mild telepathic powers; and allowing David, at least, to bring to life his mental image of a person after they die…or something. The timeline is also kind of murky in that it’s hard to tell how long the two have been on adventures before David decided to fess up, why he decided to reveal the truth, or how much black goo they have left or need. Similarly, the main plot of the origin story seems overwhelmed as it tries to fit in a mystery, multiple villains, new universes, time travel, and the various aspects of this world along with the framing device. To say that most things are left unexplained is an understatement.

But the movie succeeds despite these issues. It’s a light-ish romp that should satisfy horror-comedy fans with its obvious fondness for its predecessors. Different elements of the film call to mind the likes of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, John Carpenter’s They Live, and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, among other genre classics. It makes nice use of practical effects, gore, and puppets in addition to CGI, and its Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor is Robert Kurtzman, who handled make-up and creature effects for films such as Predator, Army of Darkness, and From Dusk Till Dawn. The lead two actors have good chemistry, Clancy Brown is always a welcome sight, and the script is funny. Even when the plot falters, the movie maintains its sense of humor and commitment to the premise of showing how two painfully average 20-somethings would fare when given the task of saving the Earth.

Overall though, John Dies At The End seems like it would make a better television pilot than a movie. The mythology it introduces is vague yet large enough that it can be developed into something grander and more coherent, or not. I enjoyed the time I spent with the characters and wouldn’t mind joining them on other adventures. If this continued as a film franchise, I can unfortunately see it continuing down the path of relying on half-baked ideas, even though that angle ended up working for the first installment. However, as an edgier/cable version of the CW’s Reaper, John Dies At The End: The Series might better allow Don Coscarelli and David Wong to indulge their ideas when building and exploring the Johniverse. Nevertheless, no matter what medium it continues in, I hope that John Dies At The End is not our last time entering this surprisingly entertaining world.

For fans of the source material, the sequel This Book is Full of Spiders was released in early October.

John Dies At The End Trailer

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