Movie Review: Juan of the Dead (TBC) / Director: Alejandro Brugues / Screenplay: Alejandro Brugues / Starring: Alexis Diaz de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andrea Duro, Andros Perugorria / Release Date: May 4th
Cuba is not a country that is exactly well known for its cinematic output. Being a socialist republic everything is heavily controlled by the state - including the media. Things have relaxed slightly in regards to the government’s control over art under Raul Castro and thank god because now we have Juan of the Dead, which considering where and when it was made it may well be the ballsiest film ever made. Romero can proclaim social satire in his movies all he likes but until he goes into a country controlled by the government and makes a zombie film critical of that countries’ regime he can just be quiet and stand in the corner.
Considering the location and subject matter, it’s amazing that Juan of the Dead is as kinetic, inventive and entertaining as it is. A zombie outbreak begins in Cuba, the media informs the republic that these are dissidents controlled by the United States even as their guts are being torn out and eaten. In the midst of all this carnage, small time crook Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) with his small band of degenerate friends and neighbours try and avoid getting eaten and start a business called ‘Juan of the Dead’ where they will come round and dispose of your zombified loved ones. As more and more people get infected and the government lose all control, Juan and his friends must face the very real possibility that they will have to leave for the nearest other country, the US.
Writer and Director Alejandro Brugues has the kinetic energy of a young Sam Raimi or perhaps more obviously Edgar Wright. I would say that Brugues’ style is much closer to Shaolin Soccer director Stephen Chow. If Chow directed a zombie film, we would end up with something like Juan of the Dead. Like most classic zombie themed movies, this works on a number of levels. Perhaps most obviously is its social satire and this is the part that is most in your face. The troubles and strife of Cuba and its history are referred to constantly both in the dialogue and visuals. Juan is a fortyish year old man and refers to events such as ‘The Angola Conflict’ and ‘The Special Time’ in Cuba’s history with a look of world weary cynicism before hilariously despatching a zombie. Almost all of the characters live in poverty and engage in small crimes to get by. There are also references to characters not seen in the back story who escaped to the United States leaving heartbreak back in the homeland.
The comedy is especially impressive in this film and much of it comes from the strong character work and of course the zombie kills. You may or may not consider this hyperbole, but I thought that in terms of both the comedy and zombie carnage, Juan of the Dead topped Zombieland and certainly felt like it had more weight than that film. The film has a much wider, more epic scope and also felt more like a live action cartoon which is something that really appeals to me on a personal level. Every time the film gets to a certain level of seriousness, something ridiculous will happen to defuse the situation but it never feels crass or out of place, just a part of a hilarious well constructed whole.
Juan of the Dead is something of a minor miracle. Forget the touchstone title referencing Edgar Wright’s break through movie and enjoy one of the most inventive, funny and thrilling zombie films made in the last ten years. Do not let this one pass you by.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10