Film Review: John Dies at the End

Horror-comedy from <i>Phantasm </i>director starts with a bang but quickly loses speed.

A supernatural action comedy that can never live up to its exciting opening scenes, Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End mixes horror-tinged mayhem with smart-aleck laughs but loses momentum early and gets bogged down in exposition. The director's culty track record (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) may draw a small audience to theatres, but the pic will quickly be courting genre die-hards on home-video.

Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes play Dave and John, twenty-somethings introduced to a gooey, mind-altering substance, dubbed soy sauce, that frees them from the space-time continuum and allows them to read others' minds. It's not all fun and party tricks, though: Taking the stuff makes them targets for all manner of icky, slithering beasts and interdimensional gnat swarms, only some of which are easy to squash. Attacks from these critters lend themselves to Sam Raimi-ish camera moves, though Coscarelli isn't as good as the Evil Dead director at making viewers laugh throughout a grisly life-or-death encounter.

The main story is told in flashback, as Dave narrates to a newspaper reporter played by Paul Giamatti. While Giamatti brings welcome charisma to the cast, the framing device takes some air out of the story and leads viewers to expect a more clever overarching narrative than we actually get.

The movie's look is appealingly garish, and its effects work will please genre buffs, blending CGI with old-school techniques to good, tongue-in-cheek effect. But what first looks like a quirkier, gorier Men in Black lacks that film's coherence and doesn't compensate with fresh ideas. Twenty years ago, John Dies might have easily drawn a devoted following; today, Coscarelli has a couple of generations of genre-savvy filmmakers to compete with.
The Hollywood Reporter