Based on the comic-horror novel of the same name by Cracked editor David Wong and brought to the screen by writer/director Don Coscarelli, John Dies at the End is a bizarre dark comedic horror film about a powerful hallucinogenic drug known as Soy Sauce, parallel universes, time travel, the heroic nature of dogs, and an alien invasion that threatens all life on the planet Earth.
We’re introduced to our main character, David Wong (Chase Williamson), as he tells his unbelievable story to reporter Arnie Bloodstone (Paul Giamatti). Through long flashbacks we see the events that have led David to a Chinese restaurant to unburden his soul. Of course by the time we meet David he’s already addicted and high on Soy Sauce, which makes him the definition of an unreliable narrator whose words (and, at times, admitted lies) can only be taken at face value.
Soy Sauce, a dark living blob of matter that forces itself on those it wants to inhabit, makes the user hypersensitive with the ability to read people’s thoughts, see things hidden in the world that shouldn’t be seen, and grant them the ability to communicate with the dead and have a somewhat limited control of time and space.
While trying to help his freaked-out friend, Dave is accidentally exposed to the drug pulling back a curtain to a world he never knew existed involving ghosts, aliens, monsters, possessed creatures made of frozen lunch meat, and more. David’s tales include strange stories about a cop (Glynn Turman) investigating the deaths of several other people who took the drug at the party David and John attended, a young woman (Allison Weissman) harassed by her recently deceased ex-boyfriend, David and John’s work for priest turned paranormal expert Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown), and an alien invasion from a parallel dimension which threatens the lives of everyone on the planet.
The movie feels very much like it’s been adapted from a novel, condensed, cherry-picked for the best moments, and somewhat haphazardly thrown together in places. Clocking in just under 100 minutes, John Dies at the End runs out a steam well before the credits begin to roll. While the wacky ride lasts, however, there’s an awful lot of fun to be had.
After John dies, David is thrown together with the other party survivors who include Justin (Jonny Weston) who has been completely taken over by the Soy Sauce, his ex-girlfriend Amy (Fabianne Therese) and Fred Chu (Jimmy Wong). With a little help from his new friend on the police force, Amy’s dog Mollie, and his dead friend John (I won’t give away more than that), David is able to survive the night, transverse dimensions, and save the world.
At times darkly clever and humorous, and boasting some fearsome alien monsters on the film’s meager budget, John Dies at the End is a complex sci-fi-horror comedy that begins to lose its footing when it begins to explain too much of how the Soy Sauce works and provides extraneous information about the differences between our world and the one from where the drug and monsters come from. Even if the film’s ending, plot twist and all, is a bit of a letdown from a film willing to push the limits of storytelling for much of its first hour, John Dies at the End is still worth seeing for fans of the genre and anyone looking for something completely different at the movie theater.