Title: Juan of the Dead
Director: Alejandro Brugues
Starring: Alexis Diaz De Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andrea Duro, Andros Perugorria
Released: 4th June 2012
In sun-kissed Havana, forty-something waster Juan mainly spends his days fishing, drinking and idling with his best friend Lazaro. However one day they make a most unusual catch – a zombie! Naturally they thrown this particular gift from the sea back, however it proves not to be an isolated incident. Fifty years after the Cuban revolution, the dead begin to rise and a new revolution begins...
I know what you're thinking - you're thinking “oh no, not another zombie flick made for tuppence and with no real ideas of its own”. However I'm happy to report that Juan of the Dead isn't just another micro-budget account of the dead rising; rather than the usual made with a camcorder and the change scraped from the back of the sofa, this is a proper production with a modest but well used few million in its pocket. And while the title is obviously tipping its hat to Messrs Wright and Pegg's opus, it is far more than just than a Latin American knock-off of Shaun of the Dead.
Now I don't wish to sound overly hyperbolic, but it is true to say that Juan of the Dead is a historic movie. No, seriously, it is! For this production is actually the first horror movie to come out of Cuba. And I'd have to say director Alejandro Brugues has not only delivered a very welcome addition to the zombie canon, but he's also done his country proud with this highly entertaining début.
Although it was made with more cash than most of the walking dead these days, the budget was still relatively small. But at the same time, the movie comes across like a much more lavish production; the first thing that strikes you about Juan of the Dead is how beautifully shot it is. This is a movie where every penny has gone on screen, and it looks absolutely wonderful. Visually alone, Juan of the Dead is the perfect tonic for anyone weary on the recent slew of camcorder cadavers.
However there is one possible weak spot in its striking cinematics, and that is the use of CGI splatter and gore. Now I say 'possible weak spot' because I know the merest splotch of blood composed of pixels sends some movie fans into paroxysms of rage. However personally I didn't mind one little bit that some of the on-screen carnage was digital rather than practical effects. For the more elaborate scenes, where the gore and mayhem is most obviously created by computer, are over-the-top set pieces of splattery fun, and as such, having the hyper-real sheen of CGI only adds to the cartoon comedy of them.
However there is more to Juan of the Dead than old fashioned splat-stick. Most of the humour is rooted in the interplay of the well-crafted characters rather than the bloody prat-falls,and having such a nicely realised motley band as our heroes means that Juan of the Dead has the narrative depth to be both thoughtful and heart-warming, as well as ghoulish good fun. Alexis Diaz De Villegas and Jorge Molina come together as an entertaining double act, but also bring us a convincing deep friendship, a relationship forged over decades that we can believe and embrace. It's also very refreshing to have a movie with two middle aged rough-looking blokes as the leads rather than the usual over-aerobicised plastic twenty somethings we get in so many Hollywood offerings.
What's also refreshing is the reaction our heroes have to the zombie apocalypse. Rather than descending into the usual survival horror panics and struggles, they come up with a novel approach to the collapse of society which I won't spoil here. However suffice to say their plans for adjusting to a world overrun by zombies are as typically Cuban as Pegg and Frost's are typically British. Hence just as Shaun of the Dead is Dawn of the Dead seen from a quintessentially British perspective, so to Juan of the Dead is an uniquely Cuban take on a Romero-style zombie uprising. And like the Pegg & Wright favourite, that doesn't just mean taking a scenario from Uncle George's oeuvre and carbon copying it - rather it takes the rules of Romero zombies (i.e. no explanation given, focusing on ordinary folks' reactions, headshot the only real stopper etc.) and constructs its own story with lashings of contemporary satire.
And the happy result of this is that Juan of the Dead is delivers all the zombie-related fun you could ask for, but at the same time presents plenty that is fresh and new. There's more than enough to satisfy walking dead traditionalists – including a great gag about the fast/slow zombies debate – but it has an atmosphere, tone and look all of its own. Juan of the Dead is smart, fun and has 'cult classic' written all the way through it like a stick of rock, so book your tickets now to this sun-kissed zombie holocaust!