John Dies At The End started life as a web-serial book in 2001, written by David Wong. It was released as a paperback in 2007, and shooting on a movie version began in 2010. The narrator and protagonist, David Wong is a slacker stoner type in his early 20s. But he’s not your average slacker stoner type “ he and his friend John can sometimes communicate telepathically and frequently experience out of the ordinary events and manifestations – toothy sluglike creatures for example, or skinhead zombies, grotesque oversized spiders and monsters made of frozen meat.
In a sickly lit Chinese restaurant, David (Chase Williamson) recounts his and John’s twisted adventures of the few preceding years to a sceptical journalist (Paul Giammati), his deadpan sardonic delivery provided voice over to many of the films events. These begin with an encounter with a terrifyingly potent new drug called ˜Soy Sauce’, quickly leading to a large explosion and escalating from there to paranormality, terror and using hot dogs to make phone calls. If it sounds like a cross between Naked Lunch and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, then you’re not a million miles away. Except of course, that would be the greatest movie ever made, and John Dies at the End, isn’t quite that.
It does have some great moments though “ bookended by a brilliant pre-credits sequence in which David poses a bizarre riddle, and a closing credit sequence which you will just have to see for yourself. There’s also much to enjoy in between “ but there are also some less good bits. Paul Giamatti who both stars and executive produces talked about the goldmine of material that was the novel and said: “what’s going to be tragic is what’s going to have to go, because stuff is going to have to go¦ The thing is, you get the sense that nothing has gone, however. They have tried to stuff in so many ideas and scenarios and characters and tones into a ninety minute film “ from druggy bodyshock horror to crude comedy – that it loses much of its coherence, after a while the dreamlike internal logic seems to dissipate and it just bounces from scene to scene, some of which are great and some of which don’t work so well. The final act in particular is problematic.
For this reason it’s not possible to recommend John Dies at the End without qualifications, but its unfettered weirdness and torrent of ideas makes it certainly worth seeking out “ just don’t expect to love all of it.