American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The threat of apocalypse no longer holds consequence enough; for director Don Coscarelli's latest gonzo genre blend, "John Dies at the End," fabricated realities sit worse with its cast of misfits, slackers, and interstellar beings than the so-called "End of the World as We Know It."
In this adaptation of author Jason Pargin's novel, the comic horror extends in many directions, but addiction is chief among them. Soy Sauce, a dimension-bending designer drug, ensnares slacker friends David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes). One dose produces an onslaught of nightmarish effects, beginning with hyper-acute psychic abilities, and ending with summoned hellspawn from portals tucked in the shadows. Rationality? Never heard of it.
Desperate journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) attempts to find some nonetheless, but as present-day David recounts his surreal exploits in a dingy Chinese restaurant, the quest for truth instead leads down a rabbit hole of lunacy and delusion. This is highlighted by the film's title: more theory than spoiler, it assumes a winking, self-aware attitude toward narrative and genre that beckons you to question your expectations of either. And for the first half, it very nearly succeeds.
As director Coscarelli demonstrated in "Phantasm" and "Bubba Ho-Tep," he likes to traffic in scrappy chaos, spicing every dollop of gore with an equivalent dose of laughter. This is nowhere more apparent than in the film's opening sequence, a whirling philosophical riff by David on whether a zombie-skewering axe — thrice repaired — can still be considered the same weapon.