In thirty year’s time, “John Dies at the End” could conceivably be mentioned in the same sentence as “Forbidden Zone” or “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension,” films that have gained cult followings primarily for their unyielding strangeness. I haven’t the slightest clue what this movie is about. All I know is that it’s resolutely determined to be a head trip, and as such, it succeeds in tremendous fashion. That doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed the experience, which I can only guess is something like being high. It only means that I recognized what it set out to do. At least, I think I recognized it. There are times when I know exactly how to process a film. At other times, I wouldn’t know where to begin, nor would I be able to determine whether or not such a thing is possible. Can you guess which category this movie falls into? Don’t think about it too hard.
How do I even begin to describe the plot, assuming that such a word even applies in this case? The central character is David Wong (Chase Williamson), which also happens to be the pseudonym under which author Jason Pargin wrote the novel the film is based on. Since it’s obvious that David is not Asian, his surname is explained as a way to make himself less easy to contact. Anyway, the film unfolds largely as a series of extended flashback sequences, David telling his story to a journalist named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) while seated in a virtually abandoned Chinese restaurant. Much of the action takes place two years earlier, at which point David had just finished high school. The story proper begins with David at a lakeside party, where his best friend, John (Rob Mayes), performs a rock gig. David has an encounter with a Jamaican named, I kid you not, Robert Marley (Tai Bennett), who’s somehow able to describe in detail the dream David had the previous night.
David is soon given a sidekick in the form of a dog named Bark Lee, who had bitten Robert Marley earlier that night. The dog, it’s quickly revealed, belongs to an amputee named Amy (Fabianne Therese), whose left hand is made of plastic. Later on, David receives a desperate phone call from John, now a delusional raving maniac. Upon going to John’s apartment, David finds a syringe filled with a black liquid referred to colloquially as “soy sauce”; it’s eventually explained that it was supplied to John by Robert Marley, and that, by injecting it, John is able to look into the future and parallel universes. Things get even stranger when David receives calls from John, which isn’t possible given the fact that John is physically in the room with David and is clearly not using a phone. This is the point at which John apologizes to David for everything that’s going to happen.