Review: Juan de los Muertos (Juan of The Dead)

 

The Story
Life long buddies Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) and Lazaro (Jorge Molena) are deadbeats; deadbeats about to meet deadbeats of another kind.  Bring on the zombie apocalypse.

We Kill Your Loved Ones, How Can I Help You?
Writer, director Alejandro Brugués has crafted not only the best zombie movie this year, but also manages to have seized a place in the annals of horror directors.

On the surface his film is just a dark comedy that takes the (in real life) isolation of the Cuban islands and throws them a zombie infestation.  It’s black humor and bludgeonings of the undead.  For most movies this would be enough.

If you’re one of those given to ig[s]noring the narrative, the action delivers more than enough to keep those alergic to dialog a good time. The undead are dispatched in full measure with baseball bats, machetes, harpoon guns, stakes, and elevators, just to give you an idea of the range of mess to be had.  JOTD wastes no time in getting its hands dirty.  If you’re looking for a good crowd pleaser in the carnage department, you’ll have your fill.

The tone of the film, as mentioned, is of the dark humor kind, but really with more of an emphasis on the humor side of things.  If you are a fan of zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead and Doghouse, this is a lot like those.  More Shaun than Doghouse and I would argue better than either one.

Love, Politics, and Zombies
Brugués could very easily have made this a run of the mill by-the-numbers zombo-splat-fest and there’s plenty of that as mentioned above, but instead he opts to stir in several real moments of emotional consequence and even further, he tops it all off with some poignant political satire.

It used to be that horror and fantasy stories were routinely laced with social commentary — something to think about beyond the scares and the wide eyed wonder, but over the years that aspect of story has been lost.  Discarded for pure (and hollow) entertainment.  As great as popcorn for popcorn’s sake can be, it’s always refreshing to have more to chew on while being entertained. Brugués appears to have had this in mind at the outset.

At first glance the film’s English title seems very much like an aping of Edgar Wright’s zom-com of a similar name, but when pronounced aloud it sounds very much like “One of the Dead“.  A title that when coupled with the film’s narrative in mind, turns a copycat label into a commentary on the state of the country the story takes place in.

Freedom of speech being what it is in Cuba, the writing is very careful to mask much of the filmmaker’s criticisms for the Cuban social and political system in humor, but every ounce of dialog in the film speaks quite loudly of the situation the characters find themselves in.

The country and its people are dying a slow death.   Unemployment is the norm, with the women largely resorting to prostituting themselves and the men, well they don’t do much beyond gambling or boozing their time (and money) away.  Our title character, Juan, is a divorcee with an ex-wife who has literally had to flee the country to seek a better life for their daughter.  Speaking of Juan’s daughter, she currently lives with the in-laws who unlike Juan are quite well off.  Juan represents the lower class and poor contingent in the story whereas the daughter represents the middle class.  Even though the daughters living is decidedly better than the father’s, it’s not by much.  The house while more substantial than what Juan currently calls home is showing its own stresses.  When the zombie infestation finally arrives, it will affect the middle class just as quickly as it does the poor.

The zombies = societal collapse analogy continues throughout the film.  As a broader example, the zombies are first discovered by Juan and his friend Lazaro (yep, Lazarus) and are immediately dismissed.  Even as the signs of the zombie’s existence become unavoidable to the society as a whole, again they’re ignored.  Ignored as simple protestors who’ve resorted to violence.  It isn’t until such a large part of the population has been turned that anyone recognizes the problem for what it is, but by then it’s too late to do anything substantial to turn the tide.  All anyone can do is survive.

The best thing about Juan of the Dead is that the social commentary is more read into than I described above.  If you’re not looking for the message you’ll simply get a fun film about surviving a zombie apocalypse.

Great action, amusing humor, fun characters, well shot, and well acted.  It’s a zombie film and remembers to be just that.  It’s also much more than that, to those that want that too.  A job well done.

Conclusion

Zombie Fu gets an A

Story and Dialog gets an A

Cinematography and Direction gets an A

Overall an A for really getting all the pieces right and offering much more for the audience that wants it.

 

Maurice
Original surviving founder of Fanboy Confidential, the podcast, and this supporting website. This is the fruit of his labor, created while on his off days from saving orphaned children from forest fires.

Only some of this is true.

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