‘Juan of the Dead’ Review [Fantastic Fest 2011]

Other than its title, Juan of the Dead only has one thing in common with George Romero’s films and Shaun of the Dead: zombies. Dawn of the Dead is a subtle social message wrapped in a violent horror film, Shaun of the Dead is a romantic comedy with zombies and Juan of the Dead is an overt political statement with a zombie story stuffed in the middle. Director Alejandro Brugués has a lot to say and some very cool zombie effects to say it with, but when the characters are so obviously speaking of issues that aren’t on screen, some of the fun of the film is sucked out.

After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, Juan of the Dead had its U.S. Premiere Friday night at Fantastic Fest 2011. Read more after the jump.

The film stars with Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) and his friend fishing in the ocean only to reel in a zombie. How did he get there? Why? What are the implications? These questions aren’t the concern of Juan of the Dead. What is the concern is how they – not anyone else – can survive the outbreak (which the government and media are blaming on the United States) and profit from it by killing for money. This is what Cubans do, they say: make the best of a bad situation. So begins some fun training and violent ass-kicking montages before the characters begin to dwindle and their aim moves off the plan into straight survival mode. By the end, the zombies themselves are nothing but an afterthought. They’re just another terrible road block put up for the people to overcome.

You have to commend Brugués for not only getting this film made in Cuba, but approved by the Cuban government – it’s billed as the first Cuban horror movie of all time. Plus, when it’s not hammering us over the head with its politics, he exhibits a great sense of aesthetic style. The humor is prominent throughout, the characters are delightfully ambiguous and the idea of forming a zombie killing service is something new and fresh. If everything surrounding those things wasn’t so ham-handed, Juan of the Dead could have been something special. As it stands, it’s a valiant effort that misses the mark.

/Film Rating – 5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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