John Dies at the End – Don Coscarelli takes on David Wong. (Sydney Underground Film Festival Review)

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“That if Franz Kafka was here his head would explode?”

“Actually, yeah.”

It’s difficult to discuss a film like John Dies At The End without having read the book, seeing as the book is a kind of mash-up parody of so many disparate influences, having its own cult following. The book was written by David Wong, an online pseudonym for Jason Pargin, a senior editor at Cracked.com. Don Coscarelli buy the rights to John Dies At The End, and then writes, directs and produces the film version of the popular novel. Seeing as I haven’t read the book, I can’t talk about how well Coscarelli becomes Wong or translates him to the screen. However, if you don’t know the book, you’re in for a wild ride of a fun time, including a little game of spot the influence.

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John Dies At the End looks like what might happen if Naked Lunch was in a book-car-crash with The Metamorphosis, which (if you can follow the insect driven trail here) is its own side path meandering off the main road of contemporary literature. I saw lots of connections with Naked Lunch, but I have to book-end that observation with the confession I’m not the target audience and therefore am mostly likely unaware of the primary influences. There is a strand of writing today that hovers under the asurdist-drugfucked-grotesque-horror-pseudosexual mostly propagated by younger males that John Dies At The End falls into. I’ve read a few of these sorts of books, and found them to be typically repetitive, conservative, and perpetual attempts at recreating the shock (shlock) value of Naked Lunch, but they have their own following, and seem to be rapidly forming a genre, which is where I would place the writing style anyway.

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A characteristic of all these books is thin, almost completely absent characterisation, which prevents any real care or interest in any protagonists.  This is a feature of John Dies At The End. The literary is always at the expense of the bizarre, meaning devices such as characterization, plot, style, cohesiveness of structure are all sacrificed for a new way to make the audience go “WOAH!” But there are some super-cool “WHOA” moments, well shot and nicely made , giving some weight to the value of this style of film (or book).

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John and David are “dudes” who attend a party where a freaky Rasta named Robert Marley (groan) is handing out  a drug known as “soy sauce”. Somehow soy sauce seems to be acting as an agent for a force that wants to select heroes to go on an inter-galactic journey into another dimension to prevent aliens from coming into our dimension and taking over planet earth. Soy Sauce allows you to see the grotesque creatures that inhabit our world, the only problem being, this revelation reveals you to the enemy also, making anyone who can act to save the world, at once a prime target. At least that is the best I can do to form a vague sort of plot line.  John Dies At The End is not bothered with subject, theme, cohesiveness or structure, so it ends up being more like a bunch of dudes freaking out on freaky shit in a narrative that has more twists than plot.

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If you’re happy with a bunch of dudes saying “fuck you” to traditional narrative forms, then you won’t have a problem with John Dies At The end, but don’t expect it to be a powerfully commentary on whats missing (like The Metamorphosis), or some revelatory new aesthetic style (like Naked Lunch).  Think more along the lines of taking a bunch of scenes, tossing them in a blender, and then pulling the lid off the blender to let the contents spew across the walls; or maybe a bunch of sci-fi nerds scrounging around the bottom of Philip K Dick’s barrel.  This isn’t Surrealism, Dadaism or Absurdest. It’s just junk made quite well and therefore, to a certain degree, visually “fun”.

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Personally, I liked John Dies At The End, and this comes down to how well made these scenes are.  This isn’t the sort of film I go to the Underground film festival for, I don’t see it as particularly imaginative or clever, but it is rather nicely made, and I don’t have a problem with a certain genre style being given a well made representative film.  I can see how it might be great to get high too, or it might be fun to gross out your girlfriend or tease your little sister and her friends. Paul Giamatti has a small but regular role in the film, which gives the ride some much-needed cred, and elevates the acting oomph, rescuing John Dies At The End from endless nothing to cult-ish something. Other than that, there is not much to say about John Dies At The End, except try to have fun.

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