JOHN DIES AT THE END. Science fiction on acid

This review contains an explanation of the horrible secret of the Universe.

Janek Steifer

17 November 2023

JOHN DIES AT THE END. Science fiction on acid

Of course, provided you don’t lose your senses while reading it. If you already know the mentioned secret, feel free to skip a few paragraphs.

John Dies at The End is like a child found at the orphanage door by an elderly nun. It’s a story as old as the world (or rather, multiverse). Stop me if you’ve heard this before. David Cronenberg, Douglas Adams, and David Lynch meet for a night of revelry at Shane Black’s place. Beers are flowing, followed by vodka. Black brings out some herbs, Lynch adds acid, someone else throws in mushrooms. One thing leads to another, and the next morning, they wake up with a child, undoubtedly fathered by all four. They leave him in the care of the nuns and disappear into the mist.

John Dies at the End Chase Williamson Rob Mayes Paul Giamatti

This could be a brief description of the “genetic code” of John Dies at The End. However, none of these gentlemen is its author. It is based on a book written by David Wong (actually: Jason Pargin), one of the key editors at The adaptation is the work of Don Coscarelli, who previously directed films like Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep (about Elvis and black JFK in a retirement home haunted by a mummy).

Plot-wise, John Dies at The End can be described quite simply: two young adults stumble upon an unusual drug they call Soy Sauce. The Sauce opens their minds to things in this world that they never dreamed of in their worst nightmares. What’s worse, some creature from another dimension called Korrok plans to harm their Earth, and now only Dave Wong and John Cheese can stop it.


[Here was the horrible secret of the Universe, but we had to cut it out because the review was too long.]

The plot of John Dies at The End itself doesn’t really matter much here. It’s not entirely superficial, but it’s not the main focus. It’s the atmosphere and the potential of the world outlined by the creators that captivate the audience. It’s like a smoking cauldron, and its scent immediately compels you to taste it, and when it’s over, like Oliver Twist, you want to ask for more. It’s a postmodern mix, but one that takes itself quite seriously—with sarcasm but without constant winking at the audience. In this approach, it strongly resembles Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

John Dies at the End Chase Williamson Rob Mayes Paul Giamatti

It’s hard to discern a typical story structure here—introduction, development, and conclusion. It actually begins with a prologue loosely connected to the rest of the story, and the epilogue has no connection with it except for the characters. The entire middle is tied together by an interview, which itself is just a reason to deepen our knowledge of the oddities inhabiting David Wong’s world. This gives it a somewhat episodic, serial value and the impression of a puzzle taken from a larger picture. It might be a coincidence because the film is an adaptation of a book, or it might be a deliberate move to stimulate our curiosity and imagination.

– There are always people resisting progress, and here it’s considered a crime.

– Here, sending murderous spiders at unarmed people is considered a greater crime. We call it arachnocide!

Due to the dreamy-narcotic narrative chaos that sneaks into the construction of John Dies at The End, it can be challenging to fully engage in what is happening on the screen. The whole thing is anchored by characters about whom we actually know very little. David Wong is a withdrawn, slightly apathetic, self-doubting young man who could be anyone. His childhood is briefly mentioned in a funny dialogue, but it fades away quite quickly. It would be helpful to better outline this character and make better use of his off-screen narration. There is quite a bit of it, and sometimes the film could easily do without it. Moreover, it lacks drama—Dave is lost throughout the film, faces no difficult choices, and doesn’t really have to accomplish anything. He’s like a fish carried by the current of the river.

John Dies at the End Chase Williamson Rob Mayes Paul Giamatti

The acting gap in John Dies at The End is evident, for example, in the scenes with Paul Giamatti playing a journalist interrogating the main character. We know very little about his character, but he is a class actor who demonstrates it with every move on the screen. Thanks to what he brings to the role, we feel that he is a flesh-and-blood person. Overall, the supporting cast looks very interesting. Clancy Brown as a theatrical researcher of the supernatural was initially unrecognizable to me, and Doug Jones is here mainly for his peculiar appearance. My favorite actor in this film is Glynn Turman (known, among other things, for his role as Mayor Royce in the TV series The Wire). He also doesn’t have a particularly well-developed role, but he excels in it (“Surely you’re wondering what I’m doing here with this gasoline” is, in my opinion, the funniest line in the film).

It’s not that Wong is entirely weak, though. He complements each other well with the energetic and flamboyant John. Rob Mayes, who plays him, reminds me of a mix of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sean William Scott with elements of Robert DeNiro. The guys work best as a duo in the prologue and at the end of the film.

John Dies at the End Chase Williamson Rob Mayes Paul Giamatti

For the John Dies at The End ‘s biggest flaw, I have to acknowledge the weak computer effects. The good news is that there aren’t many of them. They dominate in the third act of the film and are glaringly obvious. This stings right around the lumbar region because it distracts from the dialogues and the intriguingly bizarre ideas rolling across the screen. Fortunately, for most of the film, we are treated to real effects based, among other things, on animatronics and makeup. And they look excellent, pleasing to the eye.

Do you know that old human saying, ‘I want to shoot you so much that my dick is sticking out’?

John Dies at the End Chase Williamson Rob Mayes Paul Giamatti

This tale just is. Don Coscarelli treats us to Soy Sauce. Thanks to it, we see what is really happening, although we don’t know exactly why or what its purpose is. Or even why it chose us to watch this. This is a movie that needs refining, and I wouldn’t be able to give it a much higher rating, but… For some reason, I still sat and watched this film. Three times. Longing for the next time, I ask myself: is this just another viewing? Or is it love?