Director Alejandro Brugués has embraced the tropes and in-jokes of the Western zombie movie with style whilst injecting the humour, characters and plot with a unique Cuban ambience. The Havana he presents is run down, shabby and yet infused with golden sunlight, a far cry from the moody blues and shadowed grey filters used to make typical zombie films suitably depressing. In fact, there is a lack of misery throughout the film – Juan, the hero, meets the decaying hordes with a stoic acceptance exemplified by his opening speech, "I'm a survivor." His gang of fellow survivors, mostly small time crooks, refuse to give in to despair even in the face of the apparent apocalypse, and their attempts to understand what is happening are both amusing and touched with gentle satire.
Brugues has stated that he did not intend this film to be read as political satire. Given the sprawling debate surrounding the Western-style zombie as an allegory for the dangers of rampant consumerism, however, and the simple fact that any Cuban artwork instantly attracts a political narrative, it is inevitable that many critics have "discovered" a layer of social commentary in the film. There is certainly biting humour in the occasional "official" news reports that are shown, declaring the outbreak of zombie-ism on US sponsored agitators (indeed, even in the last moments of the film, Juan and his fellow survivors are calling the undead "Dissidents! Traitors!"), and there are a number of arch comments about the effects of tourism in Havana. There are no malicious attacks on the Cuban government or people, however, and Juan himself repeatedly refuses to leave the island when others urge him to. A gentle self-mocking is as political as it gets.
Juan of The Dead is not a classic Cuban film. The bloody violence, cartoonish as it gets, and bad language (Juan and his companions are somewhat ingenious in their sexual insults) could be a barrier to anyone who is not a fan of the gore-horror genre. If you are interested in a refreshingly different take on the zombie movie, however, then this is a fantastic slice of entertainment.Beccie Jeffries
Juan of The Dead (Juan de los Muertos) DVD Director Alejandro Brugués, 2012, Cuba/Spain. 92mins. Subtitles. Cert 15Buy DVD from CSC here