If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead then this film’s title should be pretty self-explanatory. Cuba’s answer to the popular 2004 British film reveals itself in a more serious horror-comedy wrapped in a political metaphor. The plot starts out similar to Shaun‘s with several homages to certain zombie kills, but outside of that, it is its own movie.
Set in Havana, the film written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, revolves around a 40-year-old man named Juan who is satisfied with doing absolutely nothing. He has the smarts but prefers illegal, easy money activities. At his side is his even lazier best friend Lazaro and Lazaro’s son, Vladi California, whose essentially a combo of the two men. There are other characters that add some drama such as Juan’s daughter Camilla who hates him for being a criminal and a loser, but none of that matters because zombies are on the loose. Unfortunately, no one knows that they’re zombies. The group in Juan of the Dead has literally no clue what’s going on. They think the zombies are capitalist dissidents.
That’s right. The limping corpses covered in blood, taking biting chunks out of people are accused of being terrorists. This is a running gag in the film as Vladi holds up an American flag to a horde of zombies and all zombies are called U.S. capitalists by the media. Even when one eats the head anchorman on live TV, everyone still thinks they’re just jacked up dissidents. No matter what they are though, Juan and friends decide to work the attacks to their advantage and start a business. A zombie/dissident killing business. Although it’s their confusion over how to do everything else that takes up most of the movie.
Juan of the Dead: We kill your beloved ones. How can we help you?
Always eager to make a quick buck, Juan figures he can make a fortune in killing the “dissidents” in town. They get the word out and became the popular extermination service, “Juan of the Dead.” Like any other business, they have some bugs to work out because as anyone that has ever worked in customer service knows, some people will do almost anything to avoid paying the bill and there are some calls that you just can’t take. People confusing one company for another or asking for services they don’t provide. At one point Juan has to tell a potential client, “we don’t do cows.”
Underneath the humor is a thinly veiled message about Cuba itself. When the zombies start taking over, the characters make a point in saying that things aren’t much different than before. Whether the world is ruled by the dead or the living, survival is the one goal anyone can ever really have.
Juan of the Dead might be an acquired taste. It’s certainty funny, hilarious in some parts, and gory in others, but it has a certain grit one doesn’t often see in horror comedies. A dry feeling that’s hopeless but at the same time very jaunty. Juan and friends are complete a**holes but they embrace it.
Most of the humor takes place in jibes made at the country and society in general. There’s a scene where the group is waiting for the bus with their weapons and bloody clothes but the bus drives past them and crashes on its side. Right before it does, they make a point in saying that despite the state of things, public transportation can’t be any more dangerous than before. Once it bursts into flames, however, one of them calmly suggests that they walk instead of waiting for the next one and so they walk.(3.5 / 5)
All pictures are property of La Zanfoña Producciones, Producciones de la 5ta Avenida and ICAIC.