STUDIO: Entertainment One (BUY IT FROM CHUD.COM)
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
- Making Of
THE TEAM: Alejandro Brugués (writer/director). Alexis Díaz de Villegas. Jorge Molina. Andrea Duro. Andros Perugorría. Jazz Vilá. Eliecer Ramírez. Antonio Dechent (stars).
THE PITCH: The zombie invasion hits Cuba and an underachieving single father takes matters into his own hands. And oar. And nunchucks.
Zombie films are a dime a dozen. Hell, they’re a nickel a dozen. There are enough zombie movies in existence right now to hold the genre over for a century and there’s no letting up. It’s very hard to stick out, especially in the ever-increasing satirical or comedic zombie film subgenre.
And you have to have big ‘ol balls to have the “of the dead” suffix in your title.
Juan of the Dead manages to almost pull it off no small part thanks to the way writer/director Alejandro Brugués juggles the genre staples, gooey effects, political subtext, and ugly but charming actors leading the charge. Cuba is being overrun by the living dead, here completely mistaken throughout the film as Dissidents by the titular hero. They roam the streets in riot formations biting and chewing their way through the Latin populace with some being old school shamblers and others having a bit of speed and dexterity to them. The joke being that in Cuba’s combustible system it’s hard to tell what’s the norm and what is the apocalypse. Continually throughout the film there are little asides and visual gags where the movie balances the fine line between lovingly patriotic and iconoclastic. Juan himself is a shady sort, a single father who’s done nothing to rise above his criminal leanings and a man who has never left his native soil even if it’s his path to a better life. Looking like a gaunt and craftier John Turturro Alexis Díaz de Villegas never winks at the camera and does able work anchoring a legitimate addition to the canon. He and Lazaro (played by Cuban shock filmmaker Jorge Molina) make for a fun, if not grotesque pair and though their supporting cast seems as if they’d be a fun rogue’s gallery it’s really these two actors that carry the film. It works. It’s not a classic but it works.
The story centers on Juan making lemonade out of the lemons life has handed him, making money dispatching the loved ones who have been infected but the cute idea doesn’t get much play beyond a fun montage (where the bulk of the good kills are). The story is more about the ragtag group of survivors staying alive long enough to see the threat end, and ultimate their attempt to escape Cuba. Juan of the Dead actually lives a little closer to the Romero films than the beloved Shaun of the Dead due its deep political throughline and more guerilla style, but it has a similar swagger. It’s nowhere near the league of Edgar Wright’s classic but proof that the British flick is continuing to influence the genre as well.
With a little more tightening, better choreography (a definite weak spot), and perhaps a little more money there’s no reason this wouldn’t be in the front lines of must-see zombie flicks. Instead, it’s a fun little curiosity that we’re seeing because of where it came from. Had it been made in Sherman Oaks no one would ever have heard of Juan of the Dead. As a bloody little postcard from Cuba it’s a decent way to kill an hour and a half and certainly more worthy than much of the horror Redbox is trying to sell you.
ITS PLACE IN THE PANTHEON:
It’s in the third tier of zombie flicks. In respectable company.
SPECIAL FEATURES, or “SPECIAL” FEATURES?
There’s a neat little making-of as well as trailers but not much else. Considering the hotbed that Cuba is, it’d have been amazing to see a documentary on what their film system is like and how a little genre flick like this got made, released, and received by its somewhat native land.
But there’s a language barrier to consider and this is not what you’d call a high profile release. Even the DVD case feels like a third tier product.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars