This is not your grandfather’s soy sauce. The Soy Sauce in John Dies at the End is a street drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. These experiences are so out of body, that some users who come back are no longer human. Their bodies become the vehicles for an alien invasion and suddenly mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John (Rob Mayes) and David (Chase Williamson), a pair of college dropouts that can barely hold down jobs.
Adapted from David Wong’s trans-genre horror novel, John Dies at the End is written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep) and also stars Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption), Glynn Turman (House of Lies) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways). Giamatti is also executive producer.
I was drawn to see this film, not by Soy Sauce, but because of Coscarelli’s previous film, Bubba Ho-Tep. Before seeing Bubba Ho-Tep, I thought that it would be really stupid and corny, but I’m a Bruce Campbell fan, so I watched it anyway. I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the film for a variety of reasons. So, in approaching John Dies at the End, I had high hopes.
I wasn’t disappointed. What sets this film apart from the Syfy made-for-TV movie it sounds like is Coscarelli’s twisted, maniacal vision – a description I think he’d like. John Dies At The End is Bevis and Butthead meets Ghostbusters, filtered through the minds of George A. Romero, Bryan Singer and M. Night Shyamalan. (Someone should check; Coscarelli may have these directors locked in his basement, only feeding them when they send up script ideas.)
What Coscarelli has done shouldn’t work, but it does. Despite the craziness, he keeps you involved with the characters and caring about the resolution to the problem. There is only one spot towards the end where the story tends to drag and is a bit expository, but, on the other hand, those scenes are full of topless women.
Another reason the film works is the great performance by Chase Williamson. This is Williamson’s professional debut, and it is a strong one. Coscarelli said, “To find a young actor to portray the protagonist Dave required reading literally hundreds of unknowns. Luckily, in walked Chase Williamson who had just graduated from USC Drama and had never appeared in anything professionally. I was so excited after Chase’s reading I literally cast him on the spot.”
Coscarelli was also happy to find Rob Mayes to play John. You may have seen Mayes in 2012 on the small screen in 90210, The Glades or Jane by Design. Tai Bennet, as a teenager channeling Bob Marley, and Glynn Turman, as a driven police detective, give strong supporting performances.
Now, hold on to your helmets, sci-fi fans, because John Dies at the End may be the first movie project selected by a robot. Coscarelli has been a sci-fi fan since his youth and had been reading some books from publisher Permuted Press. “One day I received an email from an Amazon.com ‘bot’ informing me that ‘if I liked the last Permuted title I read that I would definitely like their new book, John Dies At The End”, Coscarelli explained. “The name grabbed me instantly, but when I read the log line about a street drug called ‘soy sauce’ and a pair of mid-west slackers battling a silent otherworldly invasion, I was hooked.”
So, as this is not your grandfather’s Soy Sauce, neither is it his movie (unless, I’m your grandfather, in which case, call me). It is rated “R” for drug use, language and nudity. So, does John die at the end? I’m not sure. If you figure it out, let me know.