John Dies at the End
In the interest of objectivity, I suppose I should start out by saying that it’s difficult for me to be objective about John Dies at the End. It hits too many buttons for me to just look down and assess from any sort of critical Olympus. But I can, at least, tell you what those buttons are. That should help.
First: the feeling. When Ti West’s The House of the Devil came out in 2009, critics praised its throwback quality, the way it evoked the slow-burn scariness of certain ’80s horror pics. John Dies at the End has a similarly glorious ’80s vibe, involving as it does a portal to another dimension, goofy humor grafted onto crawling horror, and lovingly rendered critters that are far scarier than most CGI nasties.
Second, the framework: good old-fashioned Art Bell–style supernatural weirdness. Curiosities, usually no more than shrugged at — magic tricks, odd coincidences — that somehow add up to a shadow world that, as one character puts it, is “like the country-western radio station — out there, even if we don’t listen to it.” A shadow world that is breaking through and must be contained before it blots out the light.
Third: the plot, which could have been taken from one of the better episodes of The X-Files. It turns out there’s this drug, a sentient black goo, that will allow you to step outside the normal bounds of time and space and also to see the real horror that most people miss. (Actually, “allows” is the wrong word; “forces” is better.) Now that you know the truth, what are you going to do about it? There’s no use pretending it didn’t happen — we’re all gonna face the mystery at the edge of existence someday.
This is not a perfect film; there’s a plot hole at the center of things that’s bigger than any interdimensional portal, and the bad-guy monologue near the end is well-nigh interminable. But, it is a delightful film, full of winsome performances (Glynn Turman’s “old-school Catholic” police detective plays things just straight enough against lead Chase Williamson’s controlled freakout). You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.