LIFF26 - John Dies At The End - Cinema Review

'Coscarelli never loses sight of the fact that there is humour to be had from the absurd nature of the plot's conceits.'

A hedonistic blend of all that was good about Buffy, Bill & Ted and The Hangover, John Dies At The End is a loud, occasionally loutish riot; a drunk, burbling farce, trawling through Science-Fiction, Horror and anything else director Don Coscarelli wants to throw into any given scene. That he ends up with a satisfying, eminently entertaining film, is testament to how well he manages the various elements and how devoted the film is to maintaining its sense of fun.

Whilst John (Rob Mayes) may or may not die come the film's conclusion, it is compatriot David (Chase Williamson) who takes centre stage for much of the piece. Coming down off a dose of central MacGuffin Soy Sauce, a drug which lets you do whatever the plot needs you to do at any given time, David relates the events he has experienced to journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti). That the film attempts to play with structure is no great surprise, seeing as Soy Sauce seems able to bend time, and though the effect is simple it does lend John Dies some completeness of form.

The first half hour of Coscarelli's film is the best. Like a rejected episode of Buffy or Supernatural, David and John are set up as paranormal investigators, disguised as drug-addled stoners. The excellent pre-credits sequence - which has nothing to do with any other part of the plot - hints that the two have had an adventure or two in between the major events David describes and the time he describes them to Arnie. But then, what is time? Merely an ocean, able to bend and sway to David's will and the whims of a dog called Bark Lee.

Early laughs that play on the film's concept of time's malleable nature hit home, and establish a tone where any target is game and anything is possible. John calls David on the phone at one point from a different time, whilst sitting across from him at a table in another. 'That was me wasn't it... that was me', he giggles. In a later scene, several characters are in the back of a van. John wakes from a daze; 'are we going to the mall or coming back from it?', he asks 'no, we're going to it aren't we, because Fred is still alive'. Coscarelli never loses sight of the fact that there is humour to be had from the absurd nature of the plot's conceits.

That it does lose some degree of its hectic pacing and sly humour is perhaps inevitable considering it starts like Usain Bolt on skates, strapped to Sebastien Vettel's car. The middle section is a little boggy and the final third makes the mistake of thinking we care about the particulars of the antagonist(s). We don't. We'd much rather see Bark Lee drive a car through a house any day of the week. Whatever a week is.

The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.

1 comment:

  1. This one sounds really interesting. A well written movie review. Makes me want to catch this one.