Saturday, November 30, 2013

Film Review: John Dies at the End

Copyright: Magnet Releasing
Imagination is awesome. Schopenhauer, interpreted by Carl Jung, argued that imagination, or more precisely it’s derivative called a fantasy (and not just the ones that involve trying to rip off Tolkien in some way) can make a bridge between the intellect and emotions, between the purely cognitive and the purely instinctive. We use fantasies (call it daydreaming if you’re still thinking about elves and dwarves) to combine our rational thoughts with different past experiences and emotions that follow them. In daydreams we can do anything. Art is a reflection of this human ability (for me, it’s closer to a superhero power), and John Dies at the End is a reflection of the pure, uninhibited artistic need in people. After ten minutes of the film, I was sure it also could go anywhere. And that is awesome.

I say this because I have a distinct feeling that not one idea was left out in this project. It started as an online collaborative effort conceived by David Wong, which later morphed into a novel. Zombies, parallel dimensions, drugs that alter reality and much more twisted stuff all resides in this multiverse of imagination. The story of two slackers that try a new street substance called Soy Sauce is only the entry point into the rabbit hole. As it progresses, the hole becomes more and more warped, because time bends and dead people give advice to the living over cell phones. It all unravels in break neck speed and things just pile one on top of the other. In spite of that, John Dies at the End isn’t convoluted at all, because it didn’t play by any of the regular handbooks of movie narration. Instead it follows its own frantic dynamic, and it works like clockwork, if the clock had been made by a brilliant engineer on LSD.

The thing that drew me the most was the  fact that its director (who also adapted the novel) Don Coscarelli obviously didn’t plan to make this just another freaky horror movie. Of course, the film isn’t exactly polished. On a few occasions, the acting is a little improvised and irrelevant stuff sticks out like in a badly prepared and hastily recorded sitcom. But even that wasn’t a big minus for me. Works of art that define convention have all the freedom to look unfinished or odd compared to a regular film production. 

John Dies at the End has a lot of mojo that reminded me of the films like The Cabin in the Woods or the absolutely brilliant comic book series The Invisibles. It’s unbound, and it pitches its ideas farther out in the field. In the movie Looper, one scene reminded me of this feeling, and it’s the moment when a guy that’s trying to climb a wire fence start to lose his fingers that are cut off on him in the past. It’s unusual, it’s interesting, it’s new. Unfortunately, Looper transmitted this feeling to me only on several occasions. John Dies at the End transmitted it from the beginning to the end.

Daniel Carey and Paul Giamatti (who also has a major role in the film) should be proud that they recognized the potential in this script and decided to produce it. John Dies at the End is a mind twisting 100 minutes of fun and terror, packed in a cinematic format that don’t look like many other movies I saw in my life. Other producers should learn from Giamatti and start to put their weight behind stuff like this, because we badly need it.