Staff Review/ Juan de los muertos

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Mark Slattery reviews Juan de los muertos (Juan of the Dead)

Juan, the 40-year-old self styled survivor, is star of Cuba’s first zombie comedy. His laid-back existence of scrounging, stealing and womanising is threatened when his fellow citizens start to come back from the dead. The government’s explanation is that they are US funded trying to cause civil unrest but Juan knows better; here is an opportunity to make a little money. So like a Cuban version of Del Boy he gathers a little band of locals and starts offering his services to those affected by the dissidents. But when things go bad to worse will he be able to stay in his beloved Havana or be forced to escape to Miami?

If you’ve spotted the similarity in titles and think this is just an Cuban version of Shaun of the Dead you would only be partially right. While there are similarities in the zombies vs. every-day-life comedy, Juan is a mojito mix of many cult film influences. His business plan will remind you of the Ghostbusters, while the action scenes have a distinct feel of a low-budget, 70s Kung-Fu film and the common folk doggedly coping in an extraordinary situation shares a lot in common with Korea’s The Host.

The two big differences between Juan and Shaun though are the look of the film and its main characters. In Shaun of the Dead the scenes were up-close and enclosed, in living rooms and gardens, but much of this film is in bright open promenades and rooftops at sunsets. The characters are almost the mirror opposite too, while not-quite cut-throat thieves they are still chancers and rogues who’s first thought, unlike Shaun and co, is to go on the offensive and make a little peso.

Add some absurdist violence and gore, a bromance, some father issues and a zombie tango and you have a fun, tongue-in-cheek adventure. Sure there are some dodgy subtitles and ropey CGI but when the lead looks like Ken Dodd dressed as John McClane even the negatives add to the fun. Yes, there is a little political and social commentary but that’s not the point of a film like this; it’s not to be studied, it’s to be enjoyed.

So like Juan don’t work too hard at this film just sit back and enjoy, you won’t make any money out of it but I’m sure you’ll have a good time.

Juan de los muertos returns to our screens between Sat 31 and Thur 31 May. Book your tickets here.