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September 23, 2012

Movie Review: Juan of the Dead (aka Juan de los Muertos, 2012)

Zombies are big right now. I don't know if we're using it as a metaphor for surviving our own troubles, or if we're just in love with head trauma (the way to kill a zombie, of course). Either way, they're everywhere. Apparently, they've even taken over Havana, Cuba.

This is the first time I've seen a movie out of Cuba. The setting is perfect. An older neighborhood that can use some patching up and a coat of paint, an island that can contain the havoc and news media that keeps saying that everything is going to be just fine. This is where Juan and Lazaro live as petty thieves.We start with the two of them fishing off of a makeshift raft. You discover that they are close friends, and that they're not living life the way they want to. That's when Juan fishes a zombie in a Guantanamo Bay jumpsuit out of the water, and Lazaro quickly takes care of him. The two think little of it, and they decide to head home.

This is where you learn more about the characters. Juan has an estranged daughter that's back home from Spain, where she's been living with her mother. Lazaro has a son who's heading down the same bad path his father is on. They have an odd collection of friends that include several ne'er-do-wells. Two of my favorites are a bold cross dresser and his gigantic muscle-bound boyfriend who faints at the sight of blood. Top to bottom, this cast is great. I really want to see more of all of them.

The movie is fun and funny. It has touching moments throughout, and it even has a few tense moments. One of the best things on the DVD is the "Making of" featurette. It was interesting to see all of the actors genuinely surprised that a movie like this could be made in Cuba. Juan of the Dead seems to be a first of its kind in Cuban film.

I highly recommend Juan of the Dead. It's nice to see quality in a genre that's been mined to death. If you like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, this is another great comedic look at man vs. zombie.

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