“Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt.”
Never question the importance that a title plays in the success of a film. The title is the first thing that you encounter when discovering a new movie. Let me set the scene: you are at home, bored and looking for a movie to watch so you go to a Redbox kiosk or log onto your Netflix (given that video stores are close to extinct at this point); you narrow your selection down to two titles. The first is a film has a generic title that starts with “The”; the second is a little film entitled John Dies at the End. Now honestly, which title is most likely going to interest you?
“Say you have an ax – just a cheap one from Home Depot. On one bitter winter day, you use said ax to behead a man. Don’t worry, the man’s already dead. Maybe you should worry, ’cause you’re the one who shot him. He’d been a big twitchy guy with veined skin stretched over swollen biceps, tattoo of a swastika on his tongue. And you’re chopping off his head because even with eight bullets in him, you’re pretty sure he’s about to spring back to his feet and eat the look of terror right off your face.”
John Dies at the End is based off the popular horror/comedy comic of the same name; the story is told through narration by David Wong (Chase Williamson, Never Fade Away), a withdrawn and sarcastic guy who changed his name to the most common surname in the world (Wong) because he believed that it would make him harder to find. At a Chinese food restaurant, David meets reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti, I don’t think I need to list a film, do I?) who is there to interview David on his experiences as a spiritual exorcist, a career that David sort of falls into alongside his buddy Jason (Rob Mayes, The Client List). Now from the moment he sits down Arnie is skeptical of David’s claim; David in turn to prove the merit of this claim demonstrates the abilities of “The Soy Sauce”, a mysterious drug that grants the user extraordinary abilities but also induces some pretty powerful hallucinations. After making Arnie a believer, David recounts the first time that he experienced the power of the sauce, telling him about a time when our world was in danger and how he helped save it without anyone ever realizing that it needed saving; a tale that includes alternate dimensions, reanimation, and an enigmatic late-night infomercial paranormal guru Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown, Cowboys and Aliens).
First Impressions: I saw a trailer for this film a while back, and it did not interest me in the slightest. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even finish the trailer, I just lost interest. I wrote it off as an attempt to remake Bill and Ted with some modern-day modifications. When the film landed in my lap, I had only intended to grit my teeth and bear it, but the film proved to be a rare and outrageously entertaining experience.
I have not read the comic that this film is based on, but I’m going to; my reasoning behind that decision is I want to see whether the ingenious dialog that is featured in the movie is the product of the original author (who, by the way, published the comic under the pseudonym David Wong) or the screenwriter’s invention. The dialog is quite possibly the driving force of the film. The jokes carry all of the raunchiness of a National Lampoon movie, but the portion that stays with you most would be the philosophical portions, which are usually delivered via narration by the main character.
Casting plays a pivotal role in the film’s success as well; each actor was well suited for their embodied role; I can’t imagine any other actors that could have done the roles better. Williamson carries the film the way a lead should but in a less traditional way; he is for the most part just along for the ride, getting pushed into a situation that he doesn’t understand in the slightest. Williamson is also able to hold his own sparring with the veteran Giamatti during their scenes in the restaurant.
At times the story proves to be a bit of a head-scratcher and little difficult to follow, but overall it is an intriguing tale that I never expected to enjoy. It is extremely humbling to have a film come out of left field and surprise you.