Home > Reviews > Review: “Juan of the Dead” (“Juan de los Muertos”)

Review: “Juan of the Dead” (“Juan de los Muertos”)

Directed by: Alejandro Brugués
Produced by: Gervasio Iglesias, Inti Herrera
Written by: Alejandro Brugués
Cinematography by: Carles Gusi
Music by: Sergio Valdés
Starring: Alexis Díaz de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andrea Duro, Andros Perugorría, Jazz Vilá, Eliecer Ramírez, Antonio Dechent, Blanca Rosa Blanco
Year: 2011


I first heard about this movie through a Facebook ad. As you may already know, Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite movies, and, so, naturally, I have it listed as such on my Facebook page. Released in the US under the same studio, Focus Features, I was naturally notified in my feed of what can essentially be considered that film’s Cuban cousin, Juan of the Dead. Intrigued at the prospect of what could’ve possibly been an international effort to portray the same outbreak, but wary of the film’s potential to just essentially be a remake, I naturally put the film in my movie queue. My expectations weren’t too high for this film, nor was I expecting utter crap. Luckily, the movie wasn’t. And it makes smart usage of the zombie-infested setting to say some poignant things about life as a family in Cuba. (However, it’s unfortunately not the beginning of some international project to depict a global outbreak. Darn.)

Juan and his best friend, Lázaro, are much like their English counterparts, Shaun and Ed — slackers in every sense of the word, and not really worried about doing too much to change that situation. Both have adult children, Camila and Vladi, respectively, but while Vladi takes after his father and lazes about — when he’s not running around with any number of  women — Camila wants nothing to do with hers. Before he can win her back, however, strange things start happening, as random attacks on Cuba’s citizens begin to increase exponentially in number, causing a nation-wide panic the likes of which haven’t been seen since… well, pretty much any time in the past century.

The film features a funny mix of patriotic pride and political critique. It’s very clear that the filmmakers love their country and care for the citizens that reside within the troubled country’s borders, but when it comes to the unexplained zombie outbreak, the government is quick to politicize the attacks in their favor, blaming them on America-sympathizing dissidents. While the audience obviously knows what’s going on, the characters in the film believe the lies their government feeds them, and they vow to protect themselves at all costs — more specifically, at the cost of any survivors left, as the three opportunists join up with La China and El Primo, their gay friends, and, eventually, Camila in an operation they all Juan de los Muertos — a zombie extermination squad whose enthusiastic mantra is “We kill your loved ones.”

This is a good enough premise as it is, and once the film gets to this point, it has a lot of fun with the concept, allowing for the cast to exterminate the living dead in creative and flashy ways, each with their own fighting techniques. These action sequences are satisfyingly scattered about the film, with excellent special effects on display, as well.  The film takes a turn, however, as business begins to dwindle as more and more clients become the work. It isn’t long before Juan and the group begin to think of following his wife and leaving Cuba for good.

Juan of the Dead isn’t nearly as funny as Shaun of the Dead, and its protagonists are harder to love, as well. There’s a mean-spirited humor that runs throughout the film, as Juan and Lázaro are quick to dispatch with both zombies and even their still-living enemies with equal prejudice, and one somewhat uncomfortable scene that’s played for ghoulish laughs even involves their accidental killing of one of Juan’s neighbors, a fact that they barely even acknowledge. It’s still a pretty funny film that even translates well into English subtitles, but just keep in mind that this is possibly going to be a hard sell if you’re looking for your heroes to be of the altruistic nature.

As stated previously, however, all of this seems to be stating some sort of point about their shamelessness being a necessary evil to live in the conditions that they’re in. The film is critical of the government, but through Juan and Lázaro, it’s also quick to point out the responsibilities and importance of the citizens, too. The question of whether to abandon their corrupt but proud home country for better opportunities in a foreign land is surprisingly poignant in what is an otherwise humorous gore-fest, and it brings a welcome allegorical purpose behind the outbreak at hand while never beating it into your head like so many blunt objects.

And, in case you were worried about characterization within your zombie comedies, there’s also a bit of sweetness to the core characters’ relationships, as well. They’re nowhere near as endearing as those in Shaun, and you get to see far more of their bodies than you would likely wish to see, but it’s clear that these characters have deep preexisting relationships that informs their current actions and their dedication to each other — especially Juan and Lázaro, who would apparently do just about anything for one another.

Overall, I’m fairly happy that a random Facebook ad introduced this film to me. It’s not often that you find interesting new takes on the zombie sub-genre, let alone genuinely funny ones, but Juan of the Dead succeeds at being an entertaining experience with surprisingly high production values that also manages to be an intelligent film at the same time. With a few pacing and tone issues, it’s not going to supplant Shaun of the Dead any time soon, and probably not even Zombieland, for that matter, but definitely track it down if you haven’t seen it already, as I’m sure it’ll be an annual favorite for more than a few comedy-horror fans.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5


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