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Review: "Juan of the Dead"

Raunak Khosla |
July 5, 2012 | 11:27 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Promising more than just cheap thrills and cheap laughs, “Juan of the Dead”, Cuba’s first zombie film, falls short of accomplishing its more fundamental goals.

The film is written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, and follows 40 year old, good-for-nothing Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) as he survives yet another Cuban revolution.

The film starts off well, with the protagonists accidentally killing a floating zombie that they mistook for a human, instantly setting the comic tone for the film. The camera zooms out to reveal the skyline of Havana, a great location for any film, and particularly impressive for a film that satirizes the Castro government. Thereafter, minor but significant characters are then introduced, revealing aspects of Juan’s daily life.

But the humour and interest, along with the quality of acting, soon run dry, faster than it takes for the zombie outbreak. The film may be touted as a witty satire on Castro’s rule, but the film’s humour is more like that of a Bollywood masala comedy – superficial, poorly executed and in bad taste. 

In one scene, Juan and his team are killing zombies, when one of them finds the man who owes him money. He runs after him and kills him. You could tell from the tone of the music and the looks on their faces that it was supposed to be taken lightly, but sadly it was more of a fail.

As for the satire, it is in your face, transparent, and awkwardly inserted. The references are mostly direct, as when the characters openly refer to times like the Special Period and Castro’s rule, and when they redundantly point to the fact that “the only thing that works at a time like this is public transport”. There are some interesting comments about how the administration is calling these zombies political dissidents from the US to destabilize the region, but this is used so repeatedly that it too loses its substance.

The special effects are on par with those in soaps, not exactly what zombie/thriller enthusiasts would appreciate. The choreography is equally abysmal – and absurd, the way moves like stamping a zombie are passed off as multi-combo kills, in slow slow-motion. Even if they were trying to be, these things do not translate as funny.

The use of the camera however, is not so bad, with some creatively shot angles scattered throughout the film. And for all its choppy scenes, the film does manage to sustain a rather harmonious flow.

The ending is surprisingly good, and conveys more than what the film failed to convey in the last two hours. But with the final climax placed a whole minute after the credits start to roll, chance is that you’ll be far away from the theatre to see it.

Reach reporter Raunak Khosla here.



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