Juan of the Dead

The humour is surrounded by a sound zombie movie in its own right.

Juan of the Dead

Cuban zom-com Juan of the Dead has been hotly anticipated here in ScreenGeek’s secret lair since we first saw the trailer, and while the film isn’t quite the ride we had hoped it would be, there is a lot to like about this plucky Caribbean effort.

Taking an obvious cue from the British smash Shaun of the Dead, the film depicts a zombie outbreak in the streets of Havana, with idealistic slacker Juan spotting an opportunity to make a few quick pesos dispatching the undead. Setting up an exterminator service, Juan (Alexis Dias de Villegas) and his drinking buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) team up with various other acquaintances and soon find themselves very busy indeed.

It is for the most part a very funny film, with not-so subtle satire and laugh-out-loud sight gags landing with a pleasing regularity. There is an unshakeable feeling that some of the comedy will be somewhat lost in translation, and what is worth a smirk over here on our sheltered shores will doubtless be far better received elsewhere. The humour is propelled along by the kinetic direction of Alejandro Brugues, echoing the playful style of Edgar Wright, with the occasional rebellious touch of an early Robert Rodriguez.

Of course, in amongst all the splatter there had to be something more for Juan of the Dead to be a success, and thankfully the humour is surrounded by a sound zombie movie in its own right. One particularly noteworthy sequence sees Juan moving through the city streets during the initial outbreak, with a long single take capturing the carnage with an impressive sense of scale. The creature make-up effects are solid, although the occasional CGI moments are less so, with both throwing up some memorable moments of zombie action.

The film does stumble, however, once the set-up is established, with the script seeming to be unsure of which direction to take for much of the middle section. The action drags in many places as the comedy loses steam, but a few nicely-judged comic moments later on do lift things again - a tragi-comic exchange between Juan and Lazaro on a rooftop later on will get the most laughs.

Curiously, Juan of the Dead feels overlong, despite running at a relatively lean 100 minutes. The material here could well have been squeezed into a shorter film – there is a fair amount of fat to trim here. Nevertheless, fans of zombie movies and splatter comedy will find plenty to enjoy here.