As you know, Deadpool recently came out and it’s still pulling in quite the numbers. People have had mixed reactions; critics, long-time fans, and unaffiliated alike. One thing I know for sure, though, is this: after my brother went to see it with a friend, he wasn’t certain how much he actually liked it, even as a semi-fan of the Deadpool character. Then he accidentally came across a movie called John Dies at the End, and then it hit him. THIS was the kind of movie Deadpool SHOULD have been!
I had heard this movie mentioned before – being especially notorious as one of the few films in which Doug Jones appears without wearing a dozen layers of monster make-up – and even though I’d yet to seek it out, I too thought something was missing from Deadpool, so after hearing my brother’s pitch I got curious. I still avoided further details about the movie, however, because this is one of those films where, if you go in blind and with no knowledge of the story, you are in for one of the most memorably surreal, unpredictable and unconventional trips of your entire life span.
Without giving too much away, a man called Dave (Chase Williamson) meets with a journalist played by Paul Giamatti at a Chinese restaurant to tell his tale; a tale that explains how Dave and his friend John (Rob Mayes) came across a powerful new drug known as Soy Sauce. On his increasingly concerning adventure, Dave would come to meet a diverse collection of strange characters, played by the likes of Clancy Brown, Doug Jones (as we established), Glynn Turman, Fabianne Therese, Angus Scrimm of Phantasm fame, and Jimmy Wong. Yes, that would be the brother of Freddie Wong, renowned VFX artist/YouTuber and one of the people behind Video Game High School, a web series that shares multiple actors with John Dies at the End.
As Dave ventures through all sorts of horrors and sees too many strange apparitions to endure, he begins to question reality itself. If I reveal any more details, I will take away the sheer WTF experience of seeing this all unravel with your own eyes for the first time, so if I were you, I’d find this movie quickly and watch it. Unless it finds you first.
The direction is by Don Coscarelli, who’s most famous for the aforementioned Phantasm series and Bubba Ho-Tep, and the film in question is based on a book by David Wong, which I’ve been notified is even better. David Wong is a pseudonym by the way, so we’re not talking about yet another Freddie Wong relative here.
As I saw it, I agreed with my brother that it had a lot of things that the Deadpool movie lacked. The two films share the same love of violence, crude sense of humour, references (only Deadpool wouldn’t drop too many Franz Kafka or Theseus’ Paradox reference), and desire to defy conventions. And indeed, this one did have more interesting camera work, a more satisfying sense of pure insanity, and a much more unpredictable story, both in how it played with its tropes and thanks to the sheer surrealism of its premise. Also, the “flashback” framing device was used in Deadpool to cloak the fact that it had such a by-the-numbers story. Here, it added to what was already a fascinatingly weird one.
To me, the film’s biggest downfall would have to be the editing during the climax and also its digital effects. All the practical effects are first-class so it’s pretty jarring when such cheap CG visuals eventually inhabit the same frame. Couldn’t you guys have told Jimmy Wong to go ask his older brother for VFX advice while you where at it? We don’t want another Smosh.
With or without this error, I do fiercely recommend John Dies at the End. Yes, this movie will confuse you, but that’s precisely what makes it gripping and often frightening to experience. It might even remind you of some of the all-time greats when it comes to strange and surreal filmmaking. Some of it seemed like something out of a Terry Gilliam story, other parts where indistinguishable from the style of David Lynch, and even from the way the story and its timeline is structured, it made me think of a relatively less complicated Primer. I wanted to give it a 5/5, but the technical issues are too noticeable for me to aim quite that high. Instead consider it a particularly strong 4.5/5.
The trailer is down here, although I don’t even know if I would implore you to watch that. The less you know about a ride like this, the more surprising and (for better or worse) life-changing it will be.