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SXSW '12! Nordling Finds Himself Frustrated And Confused By JOHN DIES AT THE END!

Nordling here.

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.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

Readers Talkback
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  • March 13, 2012, 3:49 p.m. CST


    by Thisbathroomsnogoodfordoingcoke

    bummer, was looking forward to this..

  • Mebbe the sleepless festival experience didn't do you any favours! I want this so bad to be good…

  • March 13, 2012, 3:51 p.m. CST

    If you're a fan of the book chances are you'll enjoy it.

    by Nordling

    That's the vibe I got from fans last night.

  • March 13, 2012, 3:51 p.m. CST

    Ah, hell...

    by McDylbot

    I'll give Coscarelli benefit of the doubt anyways...

  • March 13, 2012, 3:51 p.m. CST

    Nordling - Sounds like a movie that may require a second viewing.

    by Mr. Nice Gaius

    I've had a couple of similar experiences lately and a second go-around seemed to do the trick. That being said, I'm not at all familiar with the source material but (thanks to the folks involved) this does have my interest.

  • March 13, 2012, 3:59 p.m. CST

    Sounds like how I feel about the book

    by Wilfy Fredericks

    I'm still trying but can't get it finished - and I'm not saying it's bad either but the hyper-surrealism weighs it down. Think I'm getting too old - still looking forward to watching the movie though.

  • March 13, 2012, 4:12 p.m. CST

    Nordling, you are supposed to ..

    by professor murder

    ..drink AFTER the movie, not before or during, haha. I remember taking a fifth into Spider-man a decade ago and when the movie was over, I couldn't remember 2/3rds of the film, even though I was looking at the screen the entire time. Same thing for Rambo, but that was a group collective/yelling/rooting type of thing. Both required second viewings for me to actually put it all together, heheh.

  • March 13, 2012, 4:12 p.m. CST


    by Rob

    The book narrative is the same way from how you described the film. This was probably done purposely by Coscarelli and sounds like to 'get' the film, you'll need to have read the book.

  • March 13, 2012, 4:15 p.m. CST

    The book wasnt for everyone and the movie is no doubt the same...

    by some dude

    ... I know many people who hated the book but I loved it, that and Don Coscarelli is fucking awesome! Maybe we can get a decent Phantasm movie finally, that's one of the few series that could use a big budget reboot... but it would need to be Coscarelli at the helm.

  • March 13, 2012, 4:20 p.m. CST


    by IAmTommyWiseau

    John dies at the end.

  • March 13, 2012, 4:28 p.m. CST

    Can we get a review from someone who's not a moron?

    by Gabe Athouse

    "Movie made my puzzler hurt!" Great. Next!

  • March 13, 2012, 4:55 p.m. CST

    It's ok to not like a movie, Nordling.

    by illyGraham

    I didn't like it but it's probably my fault, not the movie or the director cause he's awesome...

  • March 13, 2012, 4:58 p.m. CST

    @hyperdyne-systems-model-120-a2 can we get ...

    by Anthony Torchia

    a comment from someone who's not a moron? Time will tell :-) I applaud your honesty N

  • March 13, 2012, 5 p.m. CST

    That's an honest reaction, Nordling.

    by adeceasedfan

    I hate when that happens. In cases like this a second viewing is the cure. Hopefully with different results. Coscarelli rules though.

  • March 13, 2012, 5:05 p.m. CST

    I loved the book and am eagerly looking forward to this.

    by Rob Jenson

    More of these, please, Hollywood! God, you could make a billion of these for one John Carter or Transformers. Fuck Hollywood.

  • March 13, 2012, 5:11 p.m. CST

    Sundance reaction- (haven't read book)

    by darkknight

    I saw JDATE at Sundance at a midnight screening. I had barely heard of the book, and had not seen any films by Don Coscarelli. That being said, I really liked it. Very funny, good acting (especially from actors who usually don't get to be in the spotlight like Clancy Brown, Doug Jones, and Glynn Turman), altogether just a weird, trippy movie that was a lot of fun. Any questions?

  • March 13, 2012, 5:18 p.m. CST


    by Johnny Wrong

    ...then watch it again. It's brilliant.

  • March 13, 2012, 5:28 p.m. CST

    @johnnywrong On it.

    by darkknight

  • March 13, 2012, 5:43 p.m. CST

    Vegas Scene

    by LoLWut

    Please please please tell me the Vegas scenes from the book made it into the movie?!

  • March 13, 2012, 6:37 p.m. CST

    just read the book...

    by shrimp_shack_shooter

    ...fucking hilarious! I blew through it in a few days, and damn is there a LOT going on throughout. I honestly can't imagine how Coscareli would fit everything into 1 movie, the first act alone read like a complete film. Funny, funny book. Funny movie?

  • March 13, 2012, 6:43 p.m. CST

    It should have Morgan Freeman in it.

    by Happyfat73

    Just saying'.

  • March 13, 2012, 7:26 p.m. CST

    So... does John actually die at the end?

    by HB_Dad

  • March 13, 2012, 7:27 p.m. CST

    If a movie is based on a wildly popular book...

    by WhatTheHellHappenedToMe

    (or a moderately-popular book with a rabid fanbase), I avoid it like the plague.

  • March 13, 2012, 8:34 p.m. CST

    That's the spirit, whatthehellhappenedtome

    by Happyfat73

    There's nothing worse than stuff that people like. ESPECIALLY when they like it a lot.</p> </p> Personally, I only watch movies based on commercial failures and things that no one has ever heard of.

  • March 14, 2012, 6:46 a.m. CST

    Were you just as confused by Donnie Darko?

    by V'Shael

    Just because you're confused doesn't mean the movie sucked or was a failure. Too many audience members need pre-chewed pre-digested pablum spoon fed to them.

  • March 14, 2012, 6:49 a.m. CST

    I agree that it's always a good idea to check out the book first, but

    by murray_hamilton

    you should never have to have read the book in order to enjoy the movie. I'm a Coscarelli fan, but it sounds like this one's a miss.

  • Can't wait

  • March 14, 2012, 9:16 a.m. CST

    I take that back.

    by UltraTron

    Donny Darko is complete bullshit that even the film makers have no idea what it's supposed to mean. So is Sucker Punch. So there's 2

  • March 14, 2012, 9:18 a.m. CST

    But that scene where glylenthal sees the bunny in the theater..

    by UltraTron

    Best acting of any career. True look on his face of how you'd look if you saw something like that

  • March 14, 2012, 10:24 a.m. CST

    You shouldn't have to read a book for ANY film to work.

    by v3d

    If the film makers can't do a decent translation from the written word to film, that's on them, not the audience. Did you have to read the 1959 novel, Starship Troopers to "get" it? No, because Verhoeven and Neumeier successfully adapted that book for the medium of film.

  • On onehad we have self-indulgent directors who waste 200 million dollars on popcorn, and on the other reviewers who can't figure out that watching a movie after a whole day without sleep is a bad idea. When will sanity start reigning?

  • March 14, 2012, 2:39 p.m. CST

    v3d, yes and no

    by AsimovLives

  • March 14, 2012, 3:26 p.m. CST

    Probably just me...

    by alaska1125

    ...but I can't stand Phantasm. I've never understood the love for it and can't imagine I ever will. Definitely not inspired to see this one.

  • March 14, 2012, 7:02 p.m. CST

    asi: when in the world has sanity every started reigning?

    by melonman

    No matter the "reviews" (and I'm not sure this one counts) this movie is so up my street nothing is going to stop me from watching it with bated breath.