Saturday, January 5, 2013

John Dies at the End review

   This is a hard movie for me to review. The reason for this is due to an unlikely bit of circumstances which is unlikely to impact your average movie-goer. Basically, I thought of this exact same story premise twelve years ago in high school.My idea was for a Call of Cthulhu campaign I wanted to run but didn't have the players for. I thought Cthulhu was growing stale and it was difficult to convey to our modern jaded humorless generation what it was like to "go mad from the revelation."

     Many modern readers are atheists with the belief the universe doesn't care about us already, so Lovecraft's obsession with humanity having knowledge so terrible it would break your sanity seems a trifle odd. I say this as a Presbyterian, some people don't get it. It's not about god or innate meaning to the universe, it's about helplessness.

The dark and dangerous world of a...Chinese restaurant.
    The premise I went with was a variant on the one in this movie. That the universe is, by  itself, a terrifying place ruled by cosmic horrors beyond our comprehension. That nightmarish things happen around us on a daily basis. We just lack the mental capacity to perceive the monsters. If we ever were able to perceive them, their omnipresent nature would drive us completely mad.

    John Dies At The End takes this premise and plays it for comedy. Two twenty-something hipsters accidentally ingest something which gives them the ability to see past the illusions which protect the supernatural. The world is actually an infinitely stranger and more dangerous place than either of them ever imagined (which isn't that difficult since neither of them seem to be the sharpest tools in the shed).

    This description doesn't really illuminate how incredibly strange the movie is. From the start to the finish it functions on a surreal dream-logic which doesn't make any sense until the very end when it all starts making a twisted form of sense. I hesitate to reveal anything because that might remove you from the pure enjoyment to be had experiencing the movie's oddity for yourself.

Just one of the MANY weird places they go.
    The special effects in the movie are, for the most part, pretty good for the limited budget they had. It only falls down towards the end when they're forced to represent a creature which would have been taxing even on a much larger one. Likewise, some of the humor falls flat because it's a little too juvenile. Overall, though, I laughed throughout the entire movie and enjoyed its science-fiction premise.

    The acting in the movie is above passable, showing characters who are able to react to very strange circumstances with an understated horror. They're not particularly realistic characters but the enjoyment from watching slackers try and parse the unimaginable. It reminds me a bit of Supernatural's Winchester Brothers crossed with Clerks.

     I'm especially fond of Chase Williamson's performance as Dave. He gives an easy-going, almost stoned, performance which highlights the character's disassociated nature. Rob Mayes' performance as John is signifcantly more animated, showing him to be more "in" to the supernatural world. An almost unrecognizable Clancy Brown plays a hilarious Doctor Marconi, who is what would happen if your typical Lovecraft protagonist became a History-channel host.

    The movie isn't perfect. In addition to the failure of the special affects towards the end, some of the jokes fall flat. A little bit more editing and some rewrites could have made the movie a great deal tighter and more enjoyable. Still, I can't say it wasn't unenjoyable and I couldn't say what would have replaced the things I wasn't blown over by.

    Overall, I strongly recommend people check out John Dies At The End. It's a hilarious, surreal, and delightful experience that's probably the best thing to happen to horror since the Scream movies.


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