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GFF 2013: 'John Dies at the End' review

★★★☆☆
Don Coscarelli's 2012 adaptation of David Wong's cult novel John Dies at the End (the sequel to which, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It, was released last October) appeared at this year's Glasgow Film Festival having reportedly run into problems with its UK distribution; a sad turn of events, as Coscarelli's film could and should prove to be a reasonable success with the right audience. The film's Supernatural-esque premise involves two demon-hunting friends, David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes); David is recounting their adventures to a journalist, Arnie (Paul Giamatti).

These adventures are wacky, gory, and perhaps excessively convoluted, involving parallel dimensions, psychic powers, time-travel, and a mind-bending, reality-altering drug known as 'soy sauce'. Various plot elements recall the work of Joss Whedon, Philip K. Dick, Douglas Adams and many more, resulting in a tangled narrative that twists itself inside out and doubles-back on itself every twenty minutes or so.

Coscarelli blends it all together with a deft eye and a strong grasp of tone, which manages to stay wry and knowing even when the story seems most likely to bug out and escape. Some of the plot details don't perhaps quite match up, and there were moments when turns toward exposition threatened to drag the film down. Yet, by and large, the film remains entertaining throughout. Arguably the biggest problem with John Dies at the End is the thing that makes it so accessible; after a marvellous, deranged opening sequence in which Dave beheads a zombie skinhead with an axe, the drift towards Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory starts to make the whole things feel quite safe.

Thankfully, John Dies does amount to more than a season finale of a TV fantasy-horror series, but not by quite enough: the stakes don't seem all that high, despite claims of world-ending consequences. If what you want is schlocky fun, then John Dies at the End should deliver. If you want something more, then you may want to look elsewhere afterwards.

The 2013 Glasgow Film Festival runs from 14-24 February. For more info, please visit this link.

David Sugarman

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