Juan of the Dead Movie Review
Written by Charlotte Stear
Written and Directed by Alejandro Brugues
2011, 100 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Alexis Diaz des Villegas as Juan
Andrea Duro as Camila
Jorge Molina as Lazaro
Andros Perugorria as Vladi California
Jazz Vilá as La China
Eliecer Ramírez as El Primo
This year at the Leeds International Film Festival, a fantastic lineup of horror films made their mark on the programme, but one stood out and became the most talked about amongst all the others, Juan of the Dead.
Wait, a film called Juan of the Dead? Which is also a zombie-comedy film? If this is sounding all too familiar then that’s no surprise, we’re all into fabulous horror films so Shaun of the Dead will no doubt spring to mind on hearing the title of this independent Cuban film. The name and genre are rather identical, but if that puts you off in any way let’s clear it up right now, this film may have those basic comparisons, but it makes its own mark on this small sub genre, proving Shaun ain’t the only funny zombie killer out there.
Juan (Alexis Diaz des Villegas) is a pretty lazy guy, out to make quick money however he can to sustain his easy lifestyle. He lives with a close-knit group of friends who all seem as lost as he is. They begin to notice strange behaviour in the people around them, which increasingly turns violent. At first they are told these attacks are by Cuban dissidents paid by the US government, but Juan and his friends soon realise these are not normal humans, and when they bite other people they also turn into these wild, crazed humans intent on killing. Not to miss a trick, Juan realises they are incredibly hard to kill so forms a team to wipe out these pesky killing machines for profit, offering the service, “Juan of the dead, we kill your beloved ones”. While doing this, Juan also tries to find time to prove to his daughter Camilla (Andrea Duro ) that he can be a good, loyal father. Soon things begin to get out of control and Juan must become the man he has spent his whole life avoiding; the hero.
The casting of Juan is spot on, he is an unlikely hero but is perfect for the comedy elements of the film. He is lanky and charismatic much like a comic book character come to life, the funny parts of the film all come together because of Alexis Diaz des Villegas’ performance. His expressive face is crucial to a lot of the comedy that may at times faulter due to translation, but instead, his face says it all, whichat can be enough. One of the most surprising things about this film is how funny it actually is. The trailer does not do it justice, and with it being subtitled the movie does well to convey the humour quickly. Although some jokes may be lost on a non-Cuban audience this doesn’t really affect it in the long term. The little gang that Juan has gathered are good fodder as the story unfolds, especially the duo China and El Primo, this great supporting cast only reinforces the comedy.
What Juan excels in is the amazing ways in which to kill zombies. With all the many zombie films out there a small part of us must think, what more can they do to shock, humour or surprise an audience? Brugues has given us a fresh lease of life in that department. The deaths in this film will keep you laughing and squealing in equal measure, not to ruin anything for you, but let’s just say there’s an interesting use of handcuffs and garden taps.
Lots of other films seem to have an influence on Juan and it’s not just zombie films. When Juan sees an opportunity to make a few pounds when the epidemic strikes, there is a short montage of him answering calls to a number of amusing requests which definitely seems to take influence from Ghostbusters. It really feels the director has used more than just standard zombie films to inspire him, which is why it seems to stand out a little bit more than standard horror-comedy.
The central relationship that holds the story together is ever so slightly different to the norm. It seems every film has a love interest that the main protagonist has to save, here Juan is trying to prove his love for his daughter as she lives with her mother and sees Juan very rarely. This slightly different relationship angle really strengthens the story, it gives it much more heart and the overall satisfaction you get from the film is greater for it. When love enters the mix in horror it can be rather unbelievable or cheesy, here it proves a great mix that doesn’t take away from the shock and comedy elements of the film, an essential quality because if it did, it would slow the momentum. Juan can really boast it is a great, fast-paced, witty ride from start to finish.
Amongst all this humour and gore is a real message and astute representation of a country Brugues is trying to show us. All the situations on screen are things he sees in his native home, just with added zombies. It is a novel little film that in every way is ambitious, but succeeds in pulling it off, it looks sleek, the humour is strong and the acting on form. It’s a shame this film will have to compete with comparisons to Shaun because it shouldn’t have to, it is fantastic in its own right.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screening.
Click images to enlarge.