Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: John Dies at the End

John Dies at the End is a movie I’ve been anticipating all year, for 2 major reasons. Firstly, it’s the first feature directed by Don Coscarelli since 2002’s underwatched Bubba Ho-Tep. Secondly it’s adapted from an excellent novel, that Coscarelli’s directorial style seems to suit rather uniquely. So hopes are high going in.

The result? Pretty damned good. The story is devoted to David Wong (not his real name) living in an Undisclosed town in the midwest. When his best friend John takes a drug called Soy Sauce, he finds he can see creatures from other dimensions and remember things that haven’t happened yet. Soon, all sorts of shit is going tits up and it’s up to David and John to save the world.

As suspected, Don was a great fit for the extremely offbeat material. His direction is one of the best things about this movie, keeping the tone light and funny, even during the occasionally extremely dark happenings in the movie. It’s impressive when the movie manages to be both genuinely funny and genuinely scary, often at the same time. His choice, with the adaptation, is to take a series of some of the more famous moments from the book and adapt them to a slightly different narrative, that follows similar beats to the book while not being a slave to it. It’s a weird choice, but it works surprisingly well, especially since it’s tasked with boiling down a 450+ page book into an 100 minute movie. The dialogue and script, while mostly taken from the book it’s adapting, always manages to fit and never has the feeling that Watchmen had of character’s lines being divorced from their context.

The actors are all solid, which is especially impressive given how many of them are newcomers. The two actors playing Dave and John are both excellent, inhabiting their roles in a unique way. We’ve established before that Paul Giamatti is good in everything, and he proves it again here. Special mention must also go to Clancy Brown, playing Dr. Albert Marconi. He’s playing the character in a highly unique way, completely different from the book, but he sells it really well. And I have to say, as a Phantasm fan, seeing Angus Scrimm (aka the Tall Man) tell someone that he’s fucked over the phone really appeals to me in a weird way.

The movie does have issues though. The first is clearly the middling budget. I don’t know how much this movie cost, but it can’t be much (Don Coscarelli never gets a particularly big budget) and even though there’s very little of it above the line and he uses what he got well, the budget won’t let the effects get all the way there. The second is in the occasionally weird ways it does pay tribute to the book, even when it doesn’t really have time to. Good example, the movie includes the fairly prominent character of Amy Sullivan, but doesn’t really have a hell of a lot to do with her. Her role in the book is primarily concerned with backstory and dialogue, so there’s obviously not a lot they can do with her, but she’s still in the movie, just sort of hanging around. If you’re not a fan of the book, she and her role might seem a little baffling to you.

But those minor problems don’t prevent the movie from being a lot of fun. Right now John Dies at the End is playing On Demand, iTunes and Amazon Instant, and it will be in theaters come January 25th. And while this is a movie with something of a limited audience, I’m still going to highly recommend you check it out. If you’re into horrors, comedies, horror comedies or just any of Don Coscarelli’s previous work (in particular Bubba Ho-Tep or Phantasm) then I recommend it even higher. It’s not completely perfect, but it works surprisingly well and it’s a real blast to watch.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders what they’re going to call the adaptation of the sequel? This Theater is Full of Spiders?

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