Cuba’s first zombie flick gives a twist of rum-soaked lime and shuffle-stepped tango to George A Romero's social satire.
"I’m a survivor," declares slacker Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) in Alejandro Brugués’ Juan of the Dead, before listing all the events from Cuba’s post-revolutionary era that he has indeed survived. "Just give me a chance and I’ll sort it out."
This amiably feckless chancer regards a full-blown zombie outbreak in Havana as just another of Cuba’s endless troubles ("They want to eat, just like in the Special Period – but they don’t just eat cats"), and also as an opportunity ripe to be exploited. "We’re Cubans," says Juan, explaining to his estranged daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) why he has decided to turn zombie-slaying into a profitable business on the side. "That’s what we do when things get tough."
It is business as usual for the state authorities, too, branding the undead ‘dissidents’ and insisting that ‘everything is back to normal’ when the zombies have taken over the streets entirely. Meanwhile, whether by accident or design, Juan’s best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) seems to be taking out as many of the living as the dead. "Can’t you make a distinction between the good guys and the bad guys?" Camila asks him. "In this country," he replies, "it’s always been difficult to do that."
And so Cuba’s first zombie flick gives a twist of rum-soaked lime and shuffle-stepped tango to the social satire of George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, while also observing the post-modern metacinematic savvy of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. For when Brugués is not using the revenant deceased as a prism through which to affectionately lampoon half a century of Cuban history, he is either pastiching everything from the shark-on-zombie action of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters to the priest who likes to ‘kick ass for the Lord’ in Peter Jackson’s Braindead, or having his characters pose such daftly crucial genre questions as why, when it comes to the post-millennial living dead, "some are fast and some are slow."
The film’s pace is sometimes similarly uneven, but its blood and laughs are well-spread, and its Havana setting unique enough to pick up much of the slack.
Zombies in Cuba? Head for the hills!
A big, brassy Caribbean culling of undead tropes and slacker gore.
Rum zombie flick blends hit-and-miss buddy comedy with slyly subversive political commentary.