Film and TV

Juan of the Dead: Viva la Deadvolution!

Director Alejandro Brugués (Personal Belongings) dreamed about making a horror comedy with zombies. Surely at this point most of you are saying, "Oh who cares!?" and we'll be the first to admit that the market for zombies, even ironic funny zombies has reached the saturation point and is dripping all over the carpet. That being said, Juan of the Dead does offer things that no other zombie film has of late.

The most notable is its setting, Cuba. The island remains an exotic place to American minds, but not necessarily a romantic one. Ingrained as most are from birth to see it is a haven for an inferior system of government and under the most enduring trade embargos in modern history, there is nonetheless a fascination about the place. Like all great zombie film directors, Brugués uses his setting itself to speak on the subject of the land.

"I wanted to talk about a part of the Cuban society that just accepts life as it comes to them, without doing anything," said Brugués via email. "A part that doesn't let things change. Also, I wanted to talk about how Cubans react in front of problems."

Central to the story is the title character of Juan (Alexis Diaz De Villegas). In the past he served as a soldier in Angola, but now he has resigned himself to a near-pointless existence subsistence fishing with his best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina). The two are shiftless, partake in illegal activities to get by, but do manage the occasional good deed for a neighbor. Juan's estranged daughter Camilla (Andrea Duro) arrives in Havana, but makes it clear to her father the city is just a pit stop until she moves on to America and leaves him behind forever.

Then one day the dead rise, and Havana is consumed by zombies despite government propaganda that assures the Cuban people everything is merely the work of American-backed dissidents. While some die, and others flee, Juan, Lazaro, and a small band of locals decide to gouge citizens for everything they have by starting an extermination service. "Juan of the Dead," says Juan as he answers the phone. "We kill your loved ones."

As the situation becomes worse and worse, the money rolls in, but under the eye of Camilla Juan begins more and more to question the way his life has turned out. Heroism comes unnaturally to him, though even he is unable to ignore the consequences of selfishness around him.

"Juan isn't born a hero, life forces him to become one," said Brugués.

Don't think that Juan of the Dead is only a dreary look at society. The comedy side of the horror comedy genre is well represented. Lazaro especially is responsible for many belly laughs, though it's generally of a particularly gruesome sort. He kills no fewer than three innocent people through complete ineptness when it comes to firearm safety, and his callous, almost benevolently psychopathic nature is the source of a great deal of hilarity.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner