Josh Wilding Reviews: JUAN OF THE DEAD
Juan of the Dead (a.k.a. Juan de los Muertos) is a Cuban zombie film which aims to offer up a fresh take on the genre. Does it succeed? We were sent an early review copy, so read on to find out whether or not you should check it out.
Following in the witty and gory footsteps of Shaun of the Dead, comes Cuba’s first full-length horror film, Juan of the Dead! Juan of the Dead tells the blood-drenched tale of a slacker who decides to save Cuba from an invasion of cannibalistic zombies. As the zombies turn Havana into a gory circus of flying limbs and severed heads, the nightly news anchors continue to calmly assert the government line, that the attacks are not the work of the undead but dissidents in the pay of the United States. Scattered with allusions to traumatic moments in Cuba’s recent history, this is a zombie film with real satirical bite.
If nothing else, Juan of the Dead is a film you can have some fun with. Unfortunately, it fails in nearly every other respect, but even then there’s no getting around the fact that this Cuban horror film has enough redeeming qualities to make it a worthwhile watch for fans of the undead. The special effects may be lousy and the zombies may never truly convince, but it’s the Havana setting which really makes this horror/comedy hybrid stand out. While most films of this type stick survivors somewhere like a shopping mall, Juan and his band of misfits are given free reign of their own little slice of the city and use the opportunity to try and make some cash out of a bad situation. This is what helps the film stand apart from the far better zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, and so it’s a shame that it ultimately ends up being just another gag which takes up barely any more screen time than the rest.
However, it’s the characters who really the film from being a complete and utter write-off. Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) along with best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) and their respective children Camila (Andrea Duro) and Vladi (Andros Perugorría) do a great job for the most part and make up for the annoying caricatures who join them and are then quickly and somewhat pointlessly dispatched throughout the course of the film. Both Villegas and Molina have great chemistry, while Duro and Perugorría deliver impressive enough performances that one can only hope a casting director somewhere in the US notices their talents and decides to give them a breakthrough in something a little more mainstream. While these guys are the glue that hold Juan of the Dead together, it’s not a film filled with particularly good performances elsewhere, although the fact it’s a comedy makes that a little easier to forgive.
All in all, the story isn't great and the humour is more miss than hit. There are some genuine laughs on offer such as when Juan and Lazaro attempt to figure out exactly what it is they’re facing off against, while the Cuban government’s attempt to convince its citizens that the zombies are “dissidents” is a clever idea which unfortunately outstays its welcome, as do some of the other sillier jokes. As mentioned above, the zombies fail to ever truly convince and that is what stops the film from truly standing out. Juan of the Dead is about twenty minutes too long and it sometimes feels as if writer/director Alejandro Brugués was just making things up as he went along. Subtitles and jokes that anyone not living in Cuba won’t completely appreciate may also be a turn-off for some. Still, it definitely feels like one of those films you'll either love or hate, so it's hard not to recommend at least giving it a chance.
Despite its flaws, there are enough redeeming qualities in Juan of the Dead that you’ll still be able to have some fun. That or you’ll just sit back and come to the conclusion you’re watching one awful film. Luckily, it’s so bad that it’s good. Well, mostly.
Juan of the Dead is in UK cinemas now is set to be released on DVD on June 4th and on DVD and VOD on August 14th in the US.
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