Juan of the Dead (2011)

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*. The opening scene strikes the perfect note. Juan and Lazaro don’t want to flee to the U.S. because then they’d have to work. They prefer to be slackers. They’re not too good at making plans for the future unless they really have to. But that’s coming, sooner than they’d like.
*. But middle-aged slackers? Well, this is Cuba. Do you see anyone working? At least Shaun in Shaun of the Dead had a job, albeit a dead-end one. Juan and Lazaro are . . . what? Fishermen? Petty criminals? I wonder if they even pay rent to live on that roof.
*. The director Alejandro Brugués commenting on his inspiration for the film: “I was walking through Havana one day and looked at the expressions on people’s faces. Zombies. They didn’t even need make-up.”

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*. This is a now commonplace observation, and was sent up wonderfully in Shaun of the Dead. The zombies are us. Here it’s not clear to anyone if things have changed. Zombie Grandma still looks the same. Public transport is as unsafe as ever. You get the picture.

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*. Was Angola Cuba’s Vietnam? I never thought of it that way, but here you get that impression.
*. Father Jones is sort of forced into the mix to play deux ex machina, awkwardly explained in a scene of dialogue where everything is lost in translation anyway, and then abruptly dispatched. His character seems kind of pointless.

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*. What is the film’s attitude toward capitalism? Lazaro kills the guy who owes him money, then he and his son California leave the disabled man to the zombies so they can steal his wheelchair. Is this a socialist paradise, or a cutthroat world of dog-eat-dog, where you make money from the suffering of others?

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*. What is the film’s attitude toward homosexuality? Just grist for gay jokes? There seem to be a lot of them.
*. Juan asks Lazaro how he’s feeling and Lazaro responds “Just as when I came into the world: shitted and wet.” Is this a common expression in Spanish? Are the subtitles accurate? I don’t know.

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*. It’s a movie that’s full of in-jokes, which is what you’d expect from a self-referential genre comedy. They even have some fun with the debate over whether zombies should move fast or slow, finally splitting them into turtles and hares.
*. But you can’t do a genre comedy that is just in-jokes. This is where I think Juan of the Dead falls down. It doesn’t have an interesting or original story, and in fact the plot barely holds together. It looks pretty good for such an inexpensive film, and I like the cast, but it’s really not very funny for a comedy, or suspenseful for a horror film. You know a genre is getting played out when even the parodies are getting tired.

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