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.
Movies n TV
If You Don’t Woe Me by Now
This is the second to last episode of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And it’s kind of exactly what I expected it to be. But is that a bad thing? Let’s find out.
(Missed my last review? Click here to read it now.)
We begin at the funeral of the unfortunate Mayor Noble. While Wednesday seems to have been an invited guest, someone else in attendance isn’t.
Uncle Fester, played by Fred Armisen.
His visit couldn’t have come at a better time for Wednesday, as almost all of her friends aren’t talking to her. When Thing is brutally attacked, it’s even better luck that Uncle Fester is around.
This attack on Thing spurs Wednesday to speed up her search. With her uncle’s help, she breaks into the Nightshade library and finds that the monster attacking people is called a Hyde. A creature that can only be called upon by someone else.
This means that instead of one killer, we are looking for two. And Wednesday is pretty sure she knows who the killers are.
But of course, she’s still an idiot teenager, so she goes right ahead and confronts one of them, Dr. Kinbott, by herself. This has results that surprise no one.
After this, Wednesday learns her lesson and gets Sheriff Galpin involved to catch her suspected monster. Their relationship seems to be getting better after he caught her and Tyler in the Crackstone tomb watching Legally Blond and didn’t rebuke them. Maybe he’s softened on the idea of Wednesday dating his son.
Or maybe he wanted to use her to get around needing a search warrant for Xander’s art studio. Because why follow the law when you can risk the life of a teenager by sending her in to start grabbing up evidence in a flagrant disregard for the safety and rights of two kids?
Because that’s exactly what happened. Honestly, poor Xavier has gone through so much trying to be friends with Wednesday.
When you’re a fan of a certain genre, you’ll find yourself recognizing the beats of a story before they even happen. For instance, a murder mystery will often have a moment, right near the climax of the story, where it seems like the case is solved.
This was that episode. It appears like the case is solved, but it’s all a little too easy. And too early in the episode. Now, I don’t consider this a bad thing. It’s an expectation of the genre. Especially because this is a show for a young audience who might never have seen this before. And in this case, just because I saw it coming didn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying.
This one was satisfying because of the implications. The real monster is revealed now. And if you’ve figured out who it is, you understand how difficult a job Wednesday is going to have to prove it.
One thing I like about Wednesday is that there is no dishonesty in this child. If she thinks something, it comes right out. So of course she had no problem confronting her therapist as soon as she started putting the pieces together. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that she expects other people to behave like her. To be honest, at least some of the time. To attack from behind, and attack people other than herself to get her point across. Because, sadly, good people tend to judge others in the ways they would behave.
I loved the addition of Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. And I wasn’t expecting him to do a good job, honestly. I’m quite used to Christopher Lloyd as Fester, so this was kind of shocking. But as always, he was great. He brought a sense of levity and joyous foolishness that this character should always have.
All in all, this was a great episode. My biggest criticism is that the twist ending isn’t as unpredictable as one might like. When you’ve been a selfish prick to everyone around you, and all of your friends are done with your shit, but one person is still fine with it, that person might just have some ulterior motives.
There’s just one episode left, and I’m excited to see how the story wraps up. I have high hopes for it. And I’m just thankful that the season has exceeded the rather dismal expectations I had for it at the beginning.
(3.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)