For the first twenty minutes, my brain drew comparisons to my first viewing of Fight Club. My heart beat quickly between laughs, my eyes were dazzled and appalled by colorful close-ups of puke, roaches, body parts, and so much crimson. I was rapt by the pure poetry of the voiceover: “I once saw a man’s kidney grow tentacles, tear itself out of a hole in his back and go flappin’ across my kitchen floor. But that’s another story.”
The story, adapted for screen by Coscarelli, is based on the cult novel by Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin, a.k.a. David Wong, which is also the name of our film’s protagonist. Throughout the film, Dave (Chase Williamson) recounts his tale across the table to reporter Arnie Blondestone (played by the always fun-to-watch Paul Giamatti). Dave describes what happened after he and his friend John (Rob Mayes) ended up high on a drug called Soy Sauce, which removed them from the time-space continuum and allowed them to read people’s minds and cross dimensions. We see the strange events all in flashback, though, and this framing device soon begins to dampen the anticipation.
It’s easy to get on board with the humor, which is mostly derived from the absurdity of two twenty-something losers navigating a world of increasingly weird and disgusting near-death experiences. However, it’s difficult to keep laughing an hour in; the gross-out jokes get old. The plotline, too, becomes difficult to follow. Dave’s character is relatable at first, innocent and authentic, but the odd situations continue to top themselves until we lose any semblance of humanity that had us invested. We get past the hour of exposition only to find ourselves in an alternate universe where any truth in our characters gets traded in for body-part monsters, toilet humor, and boobs.
John Dies at the End is a beautiful nightmare, a downright scary sci-fi romp, but when the viewer can never tell the difference between what’s real and fake, it becomes difficult to keep caring. Dave keeps telling the story, and the story gets too long.
Less like Fight Club in the end than a Zombieland gone awry, this film will nonetheless surely live on as a 16-year-old fanboy’s wet dream.
In theaters January 25th, watch the John Dies at the End movie trailer here.