Today: March 3, 2024
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Juan Of The Dead

The zombie apocalypse finally hits Cuba in this so-so horror comedy

The zombie apocalypse finally hits Cuba in
this so-so horror comedy, billed as the island republic’s first commercial
horror movie.

40-something
slacker, smalltime crook and local lothario Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is getting by with
minimal effort, surviving on petty crime and fishing in a Havana where
everyone’s on the make. Lazy and
content, all Juan wants to do is hang out with best bud Lazaro (Jorge Molina), shag his married
neighbour and re-establish a relationship with his feisty, estranged, teenage
daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) before
she leaves Cuba for good and a new life in Miami.

But all
is not well in the worker’s paradise.
A zombie epidemic is sweeping the nation, blamed of course on Western
imperialism by the TV, and, while it takes our heroes a while to notice the
plague of the undead (after all, everyone seems to dress in rags and shuffle
around looking dazed and hungry; the zombies fit right in), the
ever-resourceful Juan sees an opportunity to turn a buck and reconnect with
Camila. Armed to the teeth, Juan,
Lazaro and their gang (Lazaro’s hunky son Vladi, drag queen China, squeamish
man-mountain Primo) hire themselves out as freelance zombie killers while Cuban
society descends into chaos.

It had to
happen eventually. For decades,
every new zombie movie took its cues from George
A. Romero
and his oeuvre.
Slow-moving, slow-witted, relentless gut-munchers, a bucket or two of
gore and, in the best of them, a satirical political subtext. Then along came 2004’s Shaun Of The Dead, a reverent parody of
the zombie movie which both celebrated and poked fun at the zombie genre while
recycling all the best jokes and making them palatable to a mainstream
audience. And now we have Juan Of The Dead, a reverent parody of
a reverent parody, which inspires déjà vu rather than terror. It’s biggest problem however, as with
most horror comedies is that it’s neither funny enough to be a comedy or scary
enough to be a horror movie.

While
there’s a lot of gags about the zombie outbreak being the work of terrorist
dissidents in the employ of the West (though the first zombie they encounter
floating off the coast is wearing an orange Guantanomo Bay jumpsuit, so maybe
it is all the fault of those Western
imperialists…), they’re all rather obvious, one scene even featuring a horde of
the ravenous undead walking across the seabed, no doubt heading, sheep-like,
for the bright lights of Miami. It
all feels a little cynical though as Juan
Of The Dead
looks like nothing so much as a Hollywood calling card. A talented director who’s worked
wonders with a tiny budget (and a lot of
favours), there’s a good chance that after this, Brugués, like his zombies, may soon be US-bound. Like Shaun Of The Dead, Juan Of
The Dead
is referential to the point of looking like a crib sheet of zombie
movie highlights (the throwaway nod to Fulci’s infamous zombie-on-shark action
is particularly pleasing) with some geeky dialogue (the heroes echo the horror
genre’s legion of fanboys when they pause to discuss the differences between
slow and fast zombies) and some tasteful gore.

Fundamentally,
however Juan and his gang just aren’t that sympathetic. They’re callous, selfish opportunists
who blunder through the film looking to turn an easy buck, as content filching
off their neighbours to rid them of zombies as they are fleecing tourists. In
one ‘hilarious’ scene, they tip an elderly disabled man from his wheelchair,
leaving him to be eaten alive by a horde of zombies, in order to steal his
chair and use it to ferry beer they’ve stolen. It’s a throwaway gag but indicative of a seam of cynicism
that runs through the film.
There’s also unpleasant streaks of rampant homophobia and misogyny.

While
there are some nice ideas, Juan’s evasive tango with the ravenous zombie he’s
found himself handcuffed to is a standout, the script lacks focus and momentum,
the film’s reliance on slapstick, stereotypes and the continual repetition of
the same joke (it’s all the fault of those imperialist dissidents!) wearing
pretty thin. Ultimately, Juan Of The Dead proves rather aimless;
a pointless rehash of better movies, devoid of originality. It just lacks bite.

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