JUAN OF THE DEAD (Juan de los Muertos)
Released: August 14, 2012 to DVD Premiere in USA
First of all, I have to say, this zombie movie was impressive. I think it easily deserved the 4 stars it was given. When you watch the protagonist Juan in this film, you get a real true feeling of his love for Cuba, not many films can really portray that so deeply…at least, not in this genre of the industry. Also, this film is upbeat, and I like that, along with the fact that the story is extremely well written and directed by Alejandro Brugues. The actors did a fantastic job as well. If they could have dubbed this in English, would have been better, BUT the subtitles were evenly paced, accurate in translation, and didn’t distract from the scenes as I read along the first time.
Now, I want to get this cleared up right now. There are some who have said it’s a rip off of Shaun of the dead, and honestly, it isn’t even close. The ONLY similarities between the two films are the zombies and title. Shaun of the Dead never had a scene where a protagonist, while handcuffed to a zombie, was stuck dancing a tango until he could figure out how to kill it or escape the handcuffs (whichever he could accomplish first).
So, clear your mind, and read.
This movie opens up in a not so regular place for a zombie flick, it opens a mile or so off the coast of Cuba. Here is where you meet the two main characters to the story, Juan and Lazaro, fishing off the side of a very ramshackle style raft. Juan is our main hero, while Lazaro, being his best friend, comes across as a bit of a chaotically innocent sidekick. Here is where it comes very apparent how loyal and in love with Cuba Juan is. You also figure out he’s a bit of a tramp, and I mean that in the old English sense. You really start to get a feel for the lucky ineptitude of Lazaro when it comes to danger too.
Juan, in the opening scene on the raft, discusses why he just doesn’t paddle the extra miles to Miami. Refers to his experiences with the Angola conflict, Miramar conflict, and that “Special Period“. Here it is important to know about your Cuban history. There are many references like this throughout the film, and they do not explain these, it is just expected the audience already has an idea, though overall, it doesn’t affect your understanding of the movie too much, if at all, if you don’t know.
From this scene, you get some very insightful details in to Juan and Lazaro’s lifestyle, their neighborhood and family. This movie keeps things interesting, and I like how you have a good feel for who is who in this story within the first 15 minutes or so of the film. You even see the news bulletin referring to some of these zombie attacks not as zombie attacks, but a plot purported by the USA. Damn those dissidents!
18 minutes in, you have met Lazaro’s older son California - a 20 something youth who has big aspirations, a mild disdain for his ruling government, and his father’s admiration. Juan’s daughter, Camila, has made her appearance at this point a bit earlier. She is California’s age, and has a very disdainfully stoic attitude towards her father that is trying hard to hold back hope in Juan actually straightening out his act. And then, at 20 minutes, the fun is already beginning.
Juan is helping his elderly neighbor lady into her apartment with groceries and such. You see what disrepair things are in at this building, including their elevator getting halfway stuck between floors “again”. Yiya is a very spicy woman who doesn’t come close to acting her age, and is very enjoyable. Later, she comes running for his help because her flat mate (I don’t know what his relation is) is dead….she thinks. So Juan goes down to check on things and at first agrees, until Rogelio wakes up and gets ridiculously aggressive and stands up for the first time in 15 years. Needless to say, Juan tells Yiya to call Lazaro for help, and it all goes down hill from there. This scene was a popular one for all the movie trailers released of this film. Honestly, this hooked me in to really wanting to see the it to begin with, and it didn’t disappoint.
As far as keeping the flow of the movie rolling, I personally enjoyed all the humor that accompanied the initial half hour or so of zombie encounters because these people are so ignorant of what is going on, and they are somewhat still buying in to the whole “dissident plot” propaganda. Trial by error is always fun to watch, and there was so much of it, and the ideas were so original, the scenes were a real treat. Originality was abundant throughout this film, even the pretty typical “stuck in a car while zombies are around us” scene was switched up nicely.
The main thing you have to understand that while Juan is the protagonist, really, the only antagonist in this would be the government’s inaction to do anything. Seeing happenings from his point of view is key here. I really feel this is about this man’s dedication to save his land and continue his life because as you know, in Cuba, “things happen to you, but nothing really changes.” And Juan is a creature of habit and he is desperate to not deviate from his habits, his comfort zone. One would think the total chaos of a zombie apocalypse would be ideal for Juan, ironically, it isn’t.
Needless to say, when all shit goes down, there is just himself, Lazaro, California, and the hot lesbian chick Sara in tow. He makes his way to get his daughter, faces his ex mother-in-law, and sets up camp atop an apartment building with his current party of friends along with a few others, which include his transgender accomplice in crime La Chino, and her companion, a blood fearing brute called El Primo (who happens to sport a Tyson like face tattoo). Together, this ragtag crew comes up with a plan to rid the local area of “dissidents” and charge the people that ask them to kill these “dissident” family members. Brilliant right? Leave it to Juan and Lazaro to find a way to make a profit in the worst of epidemics.
From this point, everything begins to fall in to place like a zombie movie would. Living vs. undead, including a a brothel of sorts with “Spaniards”…. I never knew Cubans had a thing about Spaniards. There are the supply runs, which we all know you need during a zombie epidemic. One of my favorite scenes involve government troops arresting the ragtag group. Let’s just say this scene involves nudity, chains, a group of people, a zombie, all in the back of a truck. It’s like a human centipede of mouth to body. Good times!
The ultimate goal in this movie is to get to Miami. This is determined about ¾ of the way in. Juan sees that the danger for his daughter is too great, and he actually puts his goals slightly on hold to get everyone to safety. It’s almost reminiscent of the A-Team with the ingenuity of the escape plan they come up with. Like I said, this movie has a lot of original ideas. Yes, they lose a few along the way, but overall this movie is a great ride.
So, here’s the rest of the review: I’m not going to tell you anymore about this movie, I want you to watch this! It’s well worth the 90 minutes of your life to sit back and appreciate, and it should be appreciated.
The effects were effective, the acting was superb, and the storyline is easy to follow and entertaining. The actors in this film all have a strong background, but nothing I personally recognize. The lead character of Juan, played by Alexis Diaz de Villegas, was superb. Jorge Molina (Lazaro) was equally believable and well delivered.
Oh, and there is some tits and ass throughout as well, which is always a benefit!
Here is a trailer:
I gave this movie a 4 out of 5 zombie Jesuses.