A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“John Dies at the End”
It’s a testament to the downright strangeness of “John Dies at the End” that I still wasn’t quite sure by the end if the title could accurately be considered a spoiler.
Cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli’s (“Bubba Ho-Tep”) adaptation of Jason Pargin’s cult web-serial-turned-book mashes up elements of gory creature features, stoner comedies and paranormal action-adventures. That its gleefully assured indie sensibilities sometimes clash with its budget-taxing special effects goals only makes the mind-bending movie an even more surreal trip.
And “John Dies at the End” is never less than surreal and trippy, as sardonic college dropout David Wong (Chase Williamson, playing the author’s surrogate) relates his unlikely tale of ghosts, zombies and insectile aliens to skeptical newspaper reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti, also an executive producer).
Dave used to be a skeptic, too, before he attended a field party where his stoner pal John (Rob Mayes) was playing with his band. At the party, the buddies encounter a fetching one-handed classmate named Amy (Fabianne Therese), her bold and clever dog Bark Lee and a seemingly psychic, maybe-Jamaican guy (Tai Bennett) peddling a mystery drug called “soy sauce.”
While John and several other partygoers eagerly take the drug, Dave is accidentally exposed. The effects are the same: The sauce allows users to glimpse and potentially traverse various times and dimensions, and it becomes apparent that at least one of those alternate planes is home to some particularly nasty beasties. Unexpectedly tasked with helping to save the world, Dave and John encounter an enigmatic alien (Doug Jones), a dogged detective (Glynn Turman) and a famous TV mentalist (the magnificent Clancy Brown) along the way.
Often convoluted and sometimes weird for the sake of weirdness, “John Dies at the End” will keep you watching just to see what entertainingly warped reality it can conjure up and what storytelling rules it can bend next.
Bonus features: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, casting sessions, two making-of featurettes and an interview with Giamatti.