Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fantastic Fest 2011 Movie Review- JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS/JUAN OF THE DEAD- He Said

Directed by: Alejandro Brugues
Written by: Alejandro Brugues
Starring: Alexis Diaz de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Blanca Rosa Blanco, and Elsa Camp
Synposis: When zombies attack Cuba, two best friends decide to set up a business as mercenaries, killing zombies for people.

As a movie fan and a Mexican/Latino, I am always interested to see what type of movies are coming out of Mexico and South America.  For very personal reasons, when it's all said and done, most of the movies coming out actually don't end up being interesting.  During Fantastic Fest, I fell in love with the fun movie that was JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS/JUAN OF THE DEAD.  This movie is not breaking ground in the zombie genre, but it does revitalize it in a way that hasn't been done well since 28 DAYS LATER and SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

Let's discuss what the movie really has going on for it, the social commentary.  As is in most great zombie movies, the zombies are there as part of a bigger message, whether it's prejudice, consumerism or our fear.  Now, I am not an expert on the situation of Cuba and what exactly inspired director Alejandro Brugues, but I figured I might as well take a stab at it.  Here, the zombies take on the form of the problems of Cuba, whether it might be any socioeconomic woes or the Fascist stance of the government. This was exemplified best when the newscasters were claiming that the zombie related destruction is all just American insurgents.  Is the director saying that Cuba and its government don't look inward when problems arise and instead blame someone else? This is one of the few things that I noticed, and a scene where one of the characters, California, declared that if he found a place where they didn't know what Cuba, Fascism, or Castro were, then he would settle down there in an instant. I think the subtext of the dialouge there speaks in very loud volumes.

The humor is something that stood out because it was more physical and darker than I expected and definitely translated well since my particular screening was laughing the whole time.  The characters, ranging from Juan's straight shooter, to El Primo, a hulking body builder that faints at the sight of blood, are all very memorable, and that even after 20 or so movies, they are the ones that I remembered the most. The action gets even better when they get the bright idea to start a business killing zombies for people; the main group just has people call in, and they'll get rid of their zombie problem.  And since our main cast of characters are, for all senses and purposes, pretty awful people, the aforementioned dark humor comes into the forefront.  Let's just say there are lots of innocent people that die and not just because of the zombies.

There are few things that I didn't care fore such as the repetitiveness of incidents involving harpoons, but they're honestly not anything that actually detracted from the film in a significant manner.  I found it very interesting to see that Cuba is a sort of character in this movie. There are lots of shots showing how beautiful it is, even as it is crumbling down and buildings are being set ablaze.  Since I speak Spanish, I kept on double-checking the subtitles, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was not much lost in translation, including the more dialogue based jokes.  I know this has been an issue when translating, especially from a language that has such peculiar idioms and slang as Spanish. 

The movie was one of the highlights for me during Fantastic Fest. There's no distribution plans around the U.S. as of right now, but the buzz has been great so far, so I'm hoping I get a chance to see it again and share it with friends.

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