31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 25: John Dies at the End (2012)

source: ondvdreleases.com

I didn’t feel terribly drunk last night. but this morning, I was awfully hungover –  not the kind of hangover where you’re just super-thirsty with a massive headache and dry mouth, but the kind of hangover that’s the one I just described + acid and nausea, resulting in the kind of crippling tummy/general-trunk-area pain that leaves you doubling over and groaning for hours. Waking at 10am-ish, it wasn’t until about 2pm before I even felt like moving. I watched John Dies at the End last night before leaving for a bit of Salem October nightlife (a party for which I successfully attempted this makeup). I was worried I hadn’t been paying attention, so I tried to watch it when I stumbled in drunk last night, trying to remember the conversation I had with a lady in a mask (holding a fake owl) about gender-bending male peacocks. I realized the next morning that I still didn’t fully process this movie, so I attempted to watch it for a third time this morning, while groaning in the foetal position on the bed I’d just made. I think I got it this time.

source: nytimes.com

Despite being distracted, drunk and hungover (in that order), I think the reason I didn’t properly digest this movie was because the pace is insanely fast, and much of how the movie develops is propelled by dialogue (the old telling, not showing bit) that leaves very little breathing room. Characters are introduced and their development is revved up at breakneck speed; the filmmakers throw us emotional character twists, expecting the emotional payoff without any screentime devoted to character development. I know that can be possible (Doctor Who frequently does this with bit parts), but the contrast is too strong here – notably, a police officer is introduced to us as no-nonsense, by-the-book copper, but in the next scene, he’s asking for help to burn down a crime scene while threatening to shoot the protagonist (who’s not John, by the way), giving a long, emotional speech that should feel dramatic, but just looks like it came out of nowhere. The plot (two losers try a street drug that gives them psychic powers, but there’s also some sort of apocalypse coming) also makes similar leaps to the increasingly ridiculous, which makes it feel rushed. I know it was based on a nearly 500-page novel, which I imagine gives it more time to ease us into that sort of thing. But the movie’s frenetic jump from surreal scene to even more surreal scene results in an episodic feel, making me wonder if this would have been better off as a TV show (especially given the bromantic chemistry between the two leads). Chase Williamson (David Wong)’s deadpan narration starts off brilliantly, setting the unsettling tone, but his voiceover soon gives away the movie’s source material as a book, and just adds another layer of “telling”.

source: aceshowbiz.com

I do feel like the opening 5 minutes misled me a bit. It seemed very stylized, with quick editing and a voiceover that felt functional. The sharp-stringed musical cues (if Psycho’s theme got awesomely drunk) made me feel like I was watching a pretty surreal horror movie. That feeling was fortified by the unkillable zombie that just walks into David’s house, but we never hear more about this (or the demon made out of bits of meat). The movie goes all over the shop to lead to a bit of a cop-out ending that seems like it’s borne out of writing yourself out of a corner. I’d imagine that’s how the book ended, but apparently not – a complete game-changer of an ending is in that book (spoiler), and it was omitted from the film.

It’s still fun to watch (especially for that cracking opening scene), but so much is rushed or edited out that it becomes a mish-mash of styles that don’t really add up to anything substantial. Instead, the movie kept trying so hard to be so self-aware that it felt as though it was trying to trick the audience at the end of every scene. And that just makes things murkier if you already have an unreliable narrator for a movie that’s essentially a quest to figure out what’s going on – and that’s also being relayed to us via flashbacks. There are some moments of humour, such as when a doorhandle transforms into a flaccid penis (“that door cannot be opened!”), but it soon just becomes weird for the sake of weird before finally collapsing under the weight of its trolling, trailing plot threads.

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