Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Review: John Dies at the End

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti

Synopsis is here:

I told the work colleague who put me on to the novel John Dies at the End, that the film would be way too bizarre for a large scale release of any kind. Not normally so optimistic (a Birmingham City football fan), my friend was as sure as he'd ever been that having Paul Giamatti on the cast list would do everything a film this kooky would need to get released.

It just so happens that watching this at the LFF was a stroke of luck, a short Q and A with the films director clarifies the films U.K distribution issues (unknown). Safe to say that those who got the chance to watch the film at the Hackney Picturehouse (along with the others who may have since it in other one off screenings) are lucky sons of bitches. Unless of course they didn't enjoy the (as quoted by the director himself) batshit antics of David Wong and John Cheese.

Those names should be familiar to those who enjoy cracked. The novel is a mass melding of pop culture and the supernatural, a twisted buddy adventure written in a snappy, quick witted prose that captures a similar anarchic feel that Kevin Smith slackers usually enjoy.

While light on solid plotting and true scares, John Dies at the end has the free-wheeling humour and nuttiness that makes the book such a fun distraction. Much of the films spirit is due to don casting the perfect duo to bring the spirit to life. Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes may be unknowns and their rough edges do show, but the assured chemistry that appears between them, drive the film. Paul Giamatti looks a little out of sorts with the whole thing, but then again so did some of the audience (we had two walkouts)

The film does as much as it can to keep hold of Wongs prose, but some of the more adventurous elements are missing due to budget restraints. The loss of them is unfortunate, as is some of the darker more twisted elements of the characters (David is a way more nihilistic character in the book) however the film manages to stay consistently funny throughout, while holding a claustrophobic visual style that reminiscent of  The Evil Dead. No bad thing, the film is one of the closet entries to that series, although I'm not sure the hardcore will agree or connect as strongly. It may be dependant on how much they dig juvenile web humour. Guess which camp I'm in.

Those who know Don Coscarelli from Phantasm may feel differently about the film in some of the content. However, this is pure Coscarelli territory in terms of theme. A buddy horror road movie that goes off kilter at a drop of a hat? You wouldn't be surprised if The tall man himself appeared (Angus Scrimm makes an appearance).

JDATE is a compromised vision, but an enjoyable one all the same. A web or TV series could have encompassed most of the craziness, but its cinematic journey never bores, it's far too drugged up on soy sauce to give a damn.