Review: Juan of the Dead
I saw this film back in March at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa, Florida. It was our third year in attendance. Coming into the festival, I had secret hopes that Juan would serve as this year’s Strigoi, the Romanian/UK horror-comedy (available on Netflix Instant).
Juan, he did not let us down. Touted as the Cuban Shaun of the Dead by the media, this slogan really sells the film short because it is more than just a Spanish-language counterpart. Indeed, Juan is an homage to our beloved Shaun, but it stands on its own two undead legs too. One reviewer makes fun of the incessant comparisons to Shaun of the Dead with his parody titles list, including Prawn of the Dead, Lawn of the Dead, Faun of the Dead, et al.
This gory romp has pure moments of comic relief buffeted by intense action sequences that scandalize the audience in its honest brutality. Tucker and Dale v. Evil may be a better comparison for this element, among others.
The film has real heart. Initially, Juan is shown as a feckless, absentee father interested only in beer, women, and chortling with his pudgy best friend. His transition into zombie-combating greatness does not seem forced and is surprisingly organic. The tragic pre-outbreak relationship between Juan and his teenage daughter is remarkably spot-on for a film with so much zombie fodder.
As his undead-killing prowess improves, so does his relationship with his daughter, who finally sees her father as the leader she has always wanted in her life. Raised by her grandmother, the daughter has the sass and spunk that is needed in what is otherwise a male-dominated cast.
Characters use insanely ingenious methods of dispatching the infected. I dare not ruin any for you, but two scenes in particular will be a treats you have always wanted but have never been given in somewhat similar fare.
Cuba, for all its problems (both of image and actual substance) should be proud of its film industry for making such an entertaining, solid film. While being marketed as Cuba’s first horror film, there has been dispute as to whether this is really the case. Anyway, politics are not wholly removed from this neo-Cuban classic. A visit to the film’s website reveals the apropos tagline: “50 years after the revolution, a new revolution begins.”
See the trailer and you will get an excellent idea of the film’s feel. No punches were pulled during the editing of this preview. Juan of the Dead is now available on VOD in USA and Canada. Check for screenings of the film here.
Recommendation Level: Strongly Recommended