Dec 6, 2013

[Movies] John Dies at the End (2012)

I originally planned to watch this movie after I had finished reading the book. However my pace with reading the book has slowed down a bit as of late due to work obligations and the overall pacing of the novel. So one thing led to another and I figured that watching the movie might help push me to finish the rest of the book sooner.

John Dies at the End is a certainly quirky piece of work. Reading the book alone told me that any adaptation would certainly be on the weird side. And true enough the movie starts out with some pretty faithful adaptations of scenes from the book. That has to be a good thing, right?

But despite the potentially fun b-movie level horror tropes involved, John Dies at the End as a movie wasn't quite all that I had hoped. And while the core story was certainly there, there was a lot about it that just didn't quite work for me. At the end of the day, it was just a decent movie but it could have been a lot more fun

Synopsis: John Dies at the End is a 2012 comedy horror movie written and directed by Don Coscarelli. The movie is based on the David Wong novel of the same name and premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

At the center of this movie are David Wong (Chase Williamson), who is also our narrator, and his friend John Cheese (Rob Mayes). These days they work as some form of paranormal investigators looking into strange things like dead boyfriend harassment. But now David has agreed to an interview with reporter Artie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), but naturally Artie is very skeptical about all the stories he's heard about the pair.

So David goes on to narrate how it all began. We go back to a night when he and Fred Chu (Jimmy Wong) go to attend a concert by John's band. While there they see Amy Sullivan (Fabianne Therese) being accosted by Justin White (Jonny Weston). They eventually connect with her and learn that her dog Bark Lee has gone missing after biting a weird Jamaican drug dealer named Robert (Tai Bennett). Later that night he receives a frantic call from John asking him to come over. Once at John's place, he figures John took something from the Jamaican and finds a syringe full of black goo. And this goo - only known as the soy sauce - leads to a whole new world of weird stuff for these two friends.

The movie does a decent job of capturing the rather oddball comedic tone of the book before it. And at first it was a pretty faithful adaptation - that opening scene alone was golden. But then the re-writing starts to happen and characters get merged together and storylines get crossed. If you hadn't read the book, the plot is just as confusing as it as before. But in some ways it felt a little more confusing. That's both a good and a bad thing.

In many ways, the story does feel like the crazy ramblings of a guy doped up on a number of illegal substances. The story flows in a very stream of consciousness fashion - it's just an added challenge that we're following the weird thinking of one soy sauce enhanced David Wong. And I can see why this may become a barrier to the movie being more appealing to a wider audience. Even having read most of the book, I still had a hard time appreciating what was going on.

Casting was a little strange, but then this wasn't exactly a big budget feature. For the most part, it certainly helped give the movie a bit of a classic horror movie vibe. But at the same time, it's function as an adaptation probably suffered by the bad acting throughout the movie. Bad acting in a true b movie can be campily funny. Bad acting in a movie that is trying to recreate a book is a little painful.

Things just keep happening around our protagonists and they sometimes manage to get involved or something like that. They don't really push the story forward - they just get dragged along for the ride. And that can be a potentially funny premise, but on the whole it doesn't make for a very compelling movie. Sure the movie gets a few chuckles in here and there, but in the long run it leaves things a little empty.

John Dies at the End ends up falling on the bad side of the line between good campy horror movies and bad comedy. I was a lot more excited for this movie before but now I'm rather disappointed. And I can see why this didn't quite get a big theatrical release this year. Thus the movie only rates 3 disturbing black goo visions out of a possible 5.

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