Tuesday Night Movie: Juan of the Dead

This Cuban zombie flick and Fantasia hit, says our reviewer, is “possibly Cuba’s most significant export since the hand-rolled cigar.”

It’s no coincidence that the title of director Alejandro Brugués’s latest film sounds a lot like Shaun of the Dead. In fact it shares quite a bit with Edgar Wright’s now-classic 2004 send up of the George Romero Living Dead series: It follows a couple of best mates, one of whom is trying to patch up a broken relationship and the other who, well, is kind of a lazy slob, as they chum their way around their island-based capital city that just happens to be overrun by hordes of brain-hungry zombies.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to tell you that Juan of the Dead not only distinguishes itself enough from its predecessors to be a significant entry in the popular genre, but that it’s also possibly Cuba’s most significant export since the hand-rolled cigar.

Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is a survivor. When the people of Havana begin succumbing to a mysterious virus, he and his pal Lazaro (Jorge Molina) can barely drag themselves away from drinking, fishing and womanizing long enough to take notice. But when his estranged daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) begs him to use his multitude of ninja-like self-defence skills to save the city, Juan instead decides to go into business for himself, exterminating the infected for profit. Business is booming, but there might be a chance to escape to Miami. Will Juan lead his fellow Cubans to safety or stay and fight for a new revolution?

Juan of the Dead is nothing short of required viewing for every zombie film fan out there, featuring some wonderful, inventive twists on the genre and just enough gore to keep the proceedings entertainingly horrific. But with heaping hordes of references to the zombie films from whence it was clearly born and cultural in-jokes most likely lost on a Canadian crowd, Juan might fall flat with the casual viewer.

Juan of the Dead is currently screening at Cinéma du Parc.

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