Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Juan of the Dead

Entertainment One

Meet Shaun (I mean Juan!) the "hero" of this 2011 Spanish-Cuban zombie film. When Havana, Cuba does the whole "the dead are returning to life to attack the living" scenario it is up to this 40-year-old slacker (and his unlikely and unlikeable group of "friends") to, not only survive the whole zombie Armageddon, but possibly even make a buck or two in the process. What begins more or less as a "subtle" nod of appreciation towards "Shaun of the Dead" (zombies start popping up everywhere and nobody seems to catch on to what is happening) quickly takes a turn into Romero territory (political message read out loud and clear) before finding it's way into an ending that was not only disappointing (no spoilers though and, based on the hundreds of glowing web reviews I read prior to picking up this DVD, I seem to be alone in my assessment of said ending), but a bit of a head-scratcher. Before the angry comments show up about how wrong I am in my review let's begin with this little tidbit. Over the past 20 or so years I have managed to fill up my movie collection with hordes (pun intended) of zombie films from the obvious (Romero's films, "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things", "Zombie", etc) to the not-so-obvious (Blind Dead series, "Rabid", "Hell of the Living Dead", etc.). I've also forced myself to watch some real turds ("Automaton Transfusion", "Special Dead", "Zombie Lake", etc.) just to say I had seen them. Since seeing the original "Dawn Of The Dead" (which is still the best zombie movie ever in my eyes!) as a teenager I've been obsessed with the whole living dead genre. I've sought out rare "gems" (going back to the days of video tapes that I bought from overseas) only to find out they were (at best) lazy and/or sloppy works of "art". So, I kind of know a thing or two about what works and what does not work. To be fair to "Juan of the Dead" there were things I really enjoyed and thought were clever. Having a outbreak on an island that is tightly controlled by the government and, in return a media that is run by the government (which, incidentally, has ties to not only "Diary Of The Dead", but practical implications of our own media here in the states which has turned a blind eye to the obvious), turns an ordinary situation into something much more interesting. Sure, it a bit of a stretch to to think that the Cuban government (and thus it's state-run media) would be able to convince the public that all these flesh-eating ghouls are just dissidents steering up a revolution. It's one think to be revolting against the government and all, but most of the time dissidents don't rip out huge chunks of flesh from their victims for an afternoon snack!. Even so it is an interesting idea/funny explanation that our "heroes" don't quite buy. Speaking of interesting, some of the dialogue is just that. The question of slow verses fast zombies is finally addressed by a character. Rather clever. Another positive is the location of "Juan of the Dead". This movie features a different landscape in which you get a real feel for what it would be like to live in a run-down country where everyone seems to be in the same boat-poor and just trying to scrape by. And finally there is the bloodbath. There is A LOT of killing going on in the movie and the special effects are surprising top-notch considering the fact that this is a independent horror film. Zombies are killed left and right and in unique ways. Simply enjoyable. The bad then? Well, first things first the obvious. "Juan of the Dead" is one of those movies where lots of things are "recycled" from other films of the zombie genre. This becomes a problem is your are someone like me who has spent a lot of time wrapped up in the living dead scene. Sure, it is hard to knock out an original zombie film after 40 years or so years of living dead films. I wasn't expecting a home run here, but this film seems old as if most of this we've already seen. At 100 minutes this isn't so much of a problem, but if the film was any longer I suspect it would have been a serious drag. My final gripe is in the characters. We all understand that, as humans, we are flawed. So, having flawed characters makes perfect sense. What does not make sense though is why there are no likable people in this film. Even our "hero" Juan is selfish, fueled by greed, a womanizer, etc. Of course it is all about redemption as he spends a nice chunk of the movie trying to make up for his past with his daughter Camila while also trying to protect her. It's a plot line as old as time itself. Having Juan (and everyone else for that matter) a flawed human being is fine it's just that all these characters are just not likable at all. It is probably not a good sign when your only 30 minutes (more likely less) into
a movie and your hoping that all of these people get eaten for dinner by the dead. I just kept waiting and hoping only to have my dreams crushed. Again, no spoilers here, but there was a much better spot to end the movie (when things looked hopeless). Granted that scene was followed up by a wonderful, gore filled, scene of zombies getting....well, I don't want to spoil it for you if you have not seen the film. Let's just say it is a creative way to take out a bunch of creeping ghouls all at once. The film would have worked well to end on a "what happens next is any one's guess" note. The ending though...well, I suggest seeing it for yourself. So, the good parts are the setting, dialog and zombie killing scenes (again, great FX for a indie film!). The bad are unlikeable characters, too many "borrowed" scenes from other films and an ending that defies logic when you really think about it. Considering all the hype surrounding this film (which, like a fool I bought into!) I was let down. I wanted to love this film as people were saying it was another "Shaun of the Dead". Sure enough it is, but it's more like Shaun's young & annoying co-worker who ends up as a chained-up zombie in the end. It isn't horrible. It is just that in the words of Public Enemy: "Don't Believe The Hype".

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