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Louis Reviews ‘Juan Of The Dead’ As Part of @TADFilmFest’s Summer Screenings

Juan of the Dead is a funny and engaging zombie film from Cuba. Death and mayhem abound, the film is also a great political satire pointed squarely at life in Cuba under Castro. It’s funny, smart and scary, fresh and vibrant. Director Alejandro Brugués has a particular, and ghoulish, take on a well visited genre and makes a well done and amusing film.

Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas), a lazy fisherman, and his friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina), spend their days doing as little as possible, though it usually includes sitting on their Havana apartment rooftop drinking rum. For some unexplained reason, zombies begin to appear on the island. Explanation is not missed or needed, because, well, they are zombies. We are introduced to a variety of characters as it slowly dawns on Juan that something is quite amiss with his fellow island inhabitants. Rather than find a boat and leave, Juan creates a plan that will make them rich. Through the rest of the film we see Juan and his merry band attempting to carry out this plan, and then subsequent plans as the first one doesn’t work out as intended and events change.

Juan of the Dead is quite well done, considering it was shot in Cuba. It’s not that Cuban directors are incapable, but rather given the limitations their government puts on them, it is difficult for directors to have the type of artistic freedom those outside Cuba enjoy. Director Brugués is an independent filmmaker, got most of his funding from Spain, but also permission from the Cuban government to shoot in and around the historic areas of Havana. Those that have traveled to the island will see and recognize many places. And there are lots and lots of zombies, whole islands worth.

The effects are quite effective, both gory and frequent, though they don’t show every time a head gets smashed in, how they compensate for this is through clever camera work and angles. While not having a huge budget can derail many productions, this one, though, employs creative writing and filmmaking, setting up situations and scenes that give the impression of more zombies than are present, but also minimize the amount of screen time they have. Juan simply dispatches them in a timely manner.

The real heart of this film is the bond between the friends and their humor. While much of the humor is satire, there are also plenty of jokes at the characters expense. Used to long suffering, and all of the language the government uses to try to cover it, the same rhetoric is on display now, but made to look quite ridiculous as events unfold onscreen. As well, these friends enjoy one another’s company, and don’t mind mocking each other, and themselves. The jokes come fast and frequent, having a mix of personal and political. There are also references to not only some of the classic zombie filmmakers, such as George A. Romero, but plenty of other actors, films and genres.

While appealing to the horror fan first, and the zombie fan in particular, this film will also be enjoyed by the casual horror fan.  If you are squeamish about blood and guts, you can safely avoid this.

I recommend this to anyone who does enjoy zombie flicks, dark humor and a gore fest. It simply isn’t made this good very often.