It's too rare, sadly, to find a film as utterly manic and unpredictable as writer/director Don Coscarelli's “John Dies at the End.”
It actually took a second viewing for me to completely understand how the plot zings from Point A (where it begins) to Point π (where it ends). That's right — it's so bizarre and unpredictable I wasn't even fully sure what the hell happened on my first viewing. That's a compliment.
Before delving any further into “John Dies at the End,” I feel it important to note that I love absurdism. I like jumping into stories where anything is possible, so much so that every single plot twist catches you by surprise.
Five minutes into this film I had no clue where it was going, and I was never able to catch up — this film is unpredictable to the very end.
Chase Williamson stars as Dave, who gets a frantic call because his best friend John (Rob Mayes) is in need of beer and help solving a supernatural crisis (in that order, I think). They apparently work as supernatural detectives, I think, although the film is never specific about the specifics of what they do.
After an adventure involving door knobs and a lot of meat, Dave begins to get worried by John's erratic behavior and the ridiculous things he says. He offers to call for help but, well, that's just because he hasn't taken the eye-opening (and extremely mind-altering) Soy Sauce yet.
I know those last two paragraphs sound ridiculous (they are), but that's only a taste of the insanity that unfolds. The story is told in flashbacks as Dave talks to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) in a seedy Chinese restaurant, and where else would a man high on a drug called “Soy Sauce” go to discuss how he battles ghosts and forces from beyond our dimension.
This movie was not made for anyone who can't suspend their disbelief, because it goes far beyond suspension of disbelief. There is no point in this film where I had any clue what might happen in the next scene; and if I had had a clue, it would have been wrong. This film is an experience, pure and simple, and you're either going to adore every minute of it or walk out after 30 minutes.
It was obviously made on a lower budget, and at times it shows. Some, if not most, of the special effects are cheesy. Realism was obviously never a goal. I wasn't bothered by the effects, though, because everything is so over-the-top that it's not like low-budget effects are suddenly going to make it seem unbelievable.
It's Coscarelli's first film in 10 years, after the fantastic “Bubba Ho-tep,” and I hope he doesn't wait 10 more years to make another film. He makes films that are fun, thoughtful and completely devoid of boring clichés or plot structure. He seems more interested in taking the viewer places they never even dreamed of going and I am more than happy to strap in and enjoy the ride.
“John Dies at the End” will premiere on Friday, Feb. 22, at the Carolina Theatre in Durham as part of the Nevermore Film Festival. More information can be found at http://www.carolinatheatre.org.
“John Dies at the End” is rated R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content.