Juan of the Dead (review)

Juan of the Dead red light

Zombies and social satire were made for each other — this has been true since the advent of the modern zombie flick in the 1970s. But zombies and political satire? This Cuban take on the walking dead clearly wants to invoke motifs of revolution rocking the status quo and of how people cope under the most extreme expressions of communist… but the humor falls flat — waaaay flat — for anyone not Cuban, or not at least familiar with life in Cuba. I mean, I could puzzle out why some of the bits here are intended to be funny — like how folk eek out their own capitalistic livings even in a state-controlled economy, as by setting up their own zombie-eradication business — but I never felt it. And yet, the much bigger problem, from my non-Cuban perspective, with Alejandro Brugués’ flick is the nonpolitical stuff. Good-for-nothing Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is an unlikeable enough hero to be fighting the undead — his greatest talents appear to be fucking up his relationship with his daughter and fucking his bored neighbor — but actively objectionable is his pal Lazaro (Jorge Molina), who takes the opportunity of the zombie apocalypse to commit manslaughter and murder against still-living, not-zombiefied people. I thought part of the appeal of zombie movies is that they create a clear delineation between pseudopeople we’re granted leave to cleave in two and human life we’re come to newly respect. Unless Juan of the Dead is making some sort of commentary on the cheapness of life under communism… but it’s nowhere near obvious how this could be the case. Anyway, completely inexcusable under any sort of governmental or social organization in the 21st century are the recurring motifs of gay-bashing and homophobia. Where the political satire could be in that is woefully unclear.

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