I don't know what happened. JOHN DIES AT THE END was one of my most anticipated movies of SXSW. I'm a big fan of Don Coscarelli - I've always loved his DIY approach to horror and I'm a fan of his PHANTASM movies and BUBBA HO-TEP. But JOHN DIES AT THE END did a complete fly-by on me, and I honestly don't know if it's on my end or of it's the fault of the movie, or just the time in which I saw it. But the movie left me pondering all of this at the end of the night and this is the first movie in quite some time that I feel badly about not liking it.
JOHN DIES AT THE END is based on the book by David Wong, and judging from the fanbase of the book in attendance last night I think it hits all the notes of the book that the fans want. There was rousing applause for the film, and I think fans of the book will grok this. But for myself, who isn't familiar with the source material, the movie just didn't work, and it doesn't work in a way that I feel some responsibility for it not working. I kept thinking that I missed a scene or two that would have explained everything to me, or at the least put me in a place to understand everything, even contextually.
The film starts promisingly enough - a reporter (Paul Giamatti) meets David Wong (Chase Williamson) at an all-night diner while David explains about super-drug "Soy Sauce", which gives the user intense pleasure as well as the ability to see the future, in all aspects and probabilities. But those who take the drug also see through the dimensions, and David tells Arnie the reporter that this world is under threat from an extra-dimensional being that could end all possible worlds as we know it. Somewhere in all of this figures a hero dog, a spiritualist television guru (Clancy Brown), and the titular John (Rob Mayes), who may or may not be dead at the end of this movie.
The film has ideas to spare, but the frenetic pacing of the movie doesn't give us time to dwell on them. JOHN DIES starts very strongly, and I particularly like the evil meat-man who is dispatched in a most unusual manner, but I was never sure if I was in the past of the narrative, the present, or the future. The movie has no pity for those who can't keep up, and seeing it at midnight was especially tough on this festivalgoer who had very little sleep the night before. That said, the movie should kill with a midnight crowd, and the reaction from the audience seemed to be genuine. But I couldn't tell if it was from fans of the book or the movie.
It's unfortunate, because Don Coscarelli is a favorite of mine. But I don't think it's through any fault of his that the movie didn't work for me. There are some striking and funny images in JOHN DIES, and I love that, at least until the latter half of the movie, there isn't much CGI to show some of the crazy imagery of the book. The performances are strong, but the material is dense and unforgiving. I'll probably pick up the book soon and hopefully what I saw will make more sense to me, but for now, JOHN DIES AT THE END is frustrating, and ultimately disappointing.