Wacky, violent, and unfortunately a bit unfinished in places; Don Conscarelli’s adaptation of Cracked writer David Wong’s novel definitely has its heart in the right places, adapting the scary and hilarity that the book brings in spades. Yeah, the story feels a little undercooked and rushed for the most part, but Conscarelli truly gets what makes John Dies at the End work, even if he’s more inclined in take the truly creepy moments in a more lighthearted manner.
Director of films like the horror film Phantasm, Conscarelli definitely has the directorial skills in making the world of a person’s nightmare come to life on the big screen. If those scenarios are weird, out of place, and doesn’t make much sense, then Conscarelli looks to be up to the task in adapting such a David Lynch-type atmosphere. This is what he certainly feels up to in John Dies at the End, a story following two friends who discover a drug that open their senses to other dimensions and monsters that other people can’t see, pulling the two unfortunate souls into a task of saving the world from a Lovecraft-Ian creature.
Conscarelli goes head first with the material, never stopping to take a breath with these characters going from one weird scenario to the very next. At a brisk 99 minutes, the film feels like half that length with the amount of subversive moments that never stop to feel boring or uninteresting. Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes are great as the two guys, Dave and John, who come across the drug known as Soy Sauce. While Mayes has a more minor role than Williamson, Williamson’s Dave is the perfect character to take on this weird journey. Completely oblivious, unimpressed, or just plain losing it with what is going on, Williamson brings the low-key, “do we really have to deal with this?” personality of Dave perfectly. Mayes as Dave, on the other hand, is the friend that’s more willing to go head first with what is going on regardless of the danger.
The rest is amicable enough, with Clancy Brown as a badass psychic who joins the duo throughout the film, and Glynn Turman is a hoot as a detective, who gets involved with the “Soy Sauce” business and starts his own bloody vendetta against whatever is about to attack his world. Even Paul Giamatti shows up as a reporter who wants to documents David’s sotry with the sauce, perfectly encapsulating the character in the book. The rest of the cast is fine, if only a bit underwritten for the most part (Fabianne Therese’s Amy is the biggest victim to the lack of exposition).
Therein lies the problem with John Dies at the End, this is a film that deserves more than what is given. There is a certainty that Conscarelli has a decent budget and does everything well in regards in bringing this book to life to the big screen. But, the film still feels rushed for the most part, feeling more like an hour-long book adaptation than a true film adaptation.
This may be a problem for big fans of David Wong’s book, but newcomers and fans of Don Conscarelli’s work will have a hoot with the amount of insanity that the director brings to John Dies at the End. This is a film that subverts horror fans’ expectations of what to expect in the genre, going simply all out with a concept without any need to stop, or think that the plot is getting a little too out of sorts. Check out this if you’re down for a ride that wants to surprise you at every corner.