Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review : Juan of the Dead (2011)

50 years after the Cuban Revolution, a new Revolution is about to begin.  

Meet Juan, a down on his luck Cuban living a life of simple means. Juan is the sort of guy who survives. He's survived wars, he's survived a marriage, he's survived poverty, and he's determined he's gonna survive the zombie apocalypse that has brought his home-city to ruins. Perhaps there's even money to be made....

Right off the bat, your probably thinking, 'Juan of the Dead? Its clearly a rip-off of Shaun of the Dead!', and no ones gonna blame you for that. Its what I thought.

As the movie kicks off, you may still be thinking such thoughts. After all you have two slackers who couldn't hold a piss-up in a brewery, a protagonist who has what appears to be a rather strained relationship with a loved one, and yes, you have a slowly building threat of the hungry undead, looming over our perpetually clueless characters.

Now that may sound like a whole lot of rip-off, but JUAN OF THE DEAD brings its own irresistible sense of charm, humor and surreality to the fight, and manages with great ease to transcend its obvious influences and cut its own moves in the most utterly fucking endearing way.

Running full steam ahead with a comic strip vibe that's only accentuated by its often sub-par effects, JUAN is an indie-movie done right. Its faster, funnier and has infinitely more inventiveness than any number of Hollywood hopefuls.
And it looks fantastic too. Yes, the effects are obvious, but they don't take away from the feeling that Cuba is feeling the force of a full-blown zombie apocalypse. From burning buildings to streets littered with half-eaten victims, and what appears to be a huge cast of extras, you really get the feel that this is going down. The camerawork only adds to the rapid-fire lunacy as we're spun through, fast-cuts, slow-motion, and long takes of the city in ruins, following our hapless hero JUAN as he goes about his 'Business' There's an energy and a vitality to the atmosphere and the storytelling that really does sell the film.

While never scary in the least, JUAN OF THE DEAD is often downright hilarious. Its been accused of being Homophobic in some quarters, and of being simultaneously overly/under political, (the zombies are referred to as 'Dissidents'), but these charges are ungrounded.

We have a flamboyantly gay character, yes, but hes a ton of fun, and very likeable, and the movies best scene is a riff on death and last requests that gets its gay on, but is never in any way offensive. I found the whole thing charming as hell, frankly.

As for the politics. They're there if you want them, and are often funny if your up to speed on the political history of Cuba, but they never interfere with what is simply a ridiculous, laugh-out-loud romp through the zombie genre, with some lovably affable characters, a genuinely playful sense of humor and even a little heart under all the froth.

In terms of carnage, there are a few scenes that are truly brilliant. Look for the scene with a truck with a mounted harpoon and a whole shit-ton of unlucky undead, and a short but beautiful underwater scene off the coast of the city. Both are standouts, but the film is littered with moments of violence and mayhem. Most of which are extremely funny.  Watching Juan and co go to town on the undead with rowing-boat oars, machetes and even sling-shots never gets old.

Its films like JUAN OF THE DEAD that made me fall in love with indie cinema in the first place. You gotta dig deep to find the good stuff, but when you do, and its as memorable and grin-inducing as this little ditty is, you'll feel not only rewarded, but fucking vindicated. This is as laid-back, funny and creative as they come.

If this truly is Cuba's first dip into the zombie genre, we should all be rather ashamed. Dissidents.

8  Zombie Exorcisms out of 10

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