Everybody Dies By The End had its world première at FrightFest 2022
Anyone who has seen Don Coscarelli’s John Dies At The End (2012) or Ryuhei Kitamura’s No One Lives (2012) will know that this kind of title can often come with irony and antiphrasis. So the title of Everybody Dies By The End, though of course containing a truism about human mortality, need not be literally true of the film’s narrative – although the viewer cannot be sure until the end. What is clear from the start though is that this is a film about films – their relationship to reality and their power to influence. It opens with foul-mouthed horror director Alfred Costella (Vinny Curran) on a chat show with host Mr Wilson (Bill Oberst Jr.), being interrogated about his responsibilities as a filmmaker and the nature of his art. The interview is a trash fire: Alfred is grandstanding, incoherent and elusive, and ends up screaming abuse into Mr Wilson’s face before storming off the set. “What a thoroughly unpleasant human being,” Mr Wilson comments to camera. “We’ll be looking forward to his next cinematic masterpiece.”
This incident causes Alfred to take a hiatus of many years from his career – but now he is back, making a film called Everybody Dies By The End which he promises will be both his ‘magnum opus’ and his ‘swansong’, and “will knock the fuckin’ world on its fuckin’ dick”. Videographer Calvin and his sound guy Mark (Joshua Wyble) are hired to shoot behind-the-scenes material for the production, and Everybody Dies By The End mostly comprises their found footage, documenting the making of a horror movie on a remote desert ranch owned by Alfred, where all the crew wear matching red Hawaiian shirts and share a wide-eyed zealotry – that verges on the cultish – for what is unfolding on set. Structured as not one but two movies-within-movies, whose two directors – Alfred and Calvin – sometimes clash and sometimes collaborate in their interrelated creative endeavours, this metacinematic hall of mirrors comes with two of its own directors: Ian Tripp (who also wrote the screenplay and plays Calvin) and Ryan Schafer. Meanwhile Alfred, like Calvin, is, as his ‘scream queen’ Allison (Iliyana Apostolova) puts it, trying “to capture something real”, which has the documentarian increasingly worried that the suicides which Alfred is recording on camera may not be fake, let alone entirely voluntary.
Everybody Dies By The End represents a strange merger of Lee Demarbre’s Smash Cut (2009) and Ti West’s The Sacrament (2013), and there is no denying the sophistication of its narrative set-up. Yet in its pursuit of what a ‘cult movie’ might really look like – not that we ever see any of Alfred’s finished work – Tripp and Schafer’s own film is entirely unbelievable, as we struggle to see why anyone would fall under the spell of a mercurial, narcissistic, bullying moron like Alfred, so that the different characters’ Damascene conversions to Alfred’s deranged worldview, though certainly necessary to propel the plot, never really convince or make sense – until, that is, one recalls how easily millions came under the sway of the not dissimilar Donald Trump. Of course, the more real Everybody Dies By The End claims to be, the faker it is, and judging its wilfully half-hearted reality effects by any conventional criterion of truth seems an utterly misguided approach to the magic of cinema. Here to suspend disbelief, and to buy into Alfred’s ‘inspirational’ vision, is simply to drink the Kool Aid – for with someone like Alfred (brilliantly exposed in all his aggressive schlubbiness by Curran) at the helm, we may as well all just kill ourselves, meaning that Everybody Dies By The End, if perhaps not Everybody Dies By The End, has done its work and spread its message. Yet if its satire – both of the fringe filmmaking community and of these doomsday times – goes for the jugular, the jokes are rather hit and miss.
strap: Cult movie: Ian Tripp and Ryan Schafer’s found footage meta-horror satirises genre’s connections with and influences on reality
© Anton Bitel