Some films are born cult, some films achieve cult and some have cult thrust upon them. Some, like John Dies at the End, party crash the cult party screaming: ‘Look! Look at me! Seriously… Ooo! I’m so blinking culty!’
Based on the underground novel of the same name, John Dies at the End is the tale of two twenty-somethings, John (Rob Mayles) and David (Chase Williamson), who routinely battle the occult and paranormal. John seems to embrace their Carnacki-esque lifestyle, whilst David would rather be given the opportunity to get a full night’s sleep once in a while.
We first meet Dave in a Chinese restaurant coming down from a heavy dose of a drug simply known as Soy Sauce. There he meets Arnie (Paul Giamatti), a journalist he hopes will be able to help him spread the story of his life and the secrets of known and unknown universes. Secrets involving dogs, white boy rappers, bugs, zombies, demonic cold cuts and time travel.
It’s a lot to take on board for Arnie, and the same could be said of the viewer.
John Dies at The End is, at best, a series of amusing anecdotes you told your friend whilst high, than it is an actual movie. Its deliberate zaniness runs heavy and deep through its short running time. So proud is the film of its genital doorknobs and nude occultists (long story), it forgets to look at things like coherence and filling in plot holes. It just seems content to bounce around like a rabbit on a trampoline looking for attention.
When the A-plot ends and the B-plot starts floundering like a fish plucked straight out of the ocean, there’s an empty feeling of being cheated. Like the previous 90 minutes could have been wrapped up into a 20 minute flashback before unleashing a stonking great story on us. Instead, it just sort of stops and the credits roll. Admittedly, the sting in the credits is worth sticking around for, but it just reinforces the fact that it’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it just feels like the pilot. This could easily have been a series of 20 minute adventures, or even 10 minute clips on Crackle or Netflix. Which would dilute the wackiness and – whisper it – smugness of the whole affair.
Unfortunately, for us, it’s just too patchy and in love with itself to justify a return visit.