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Review: Juan of the Dead

What do you get when you move zombies to Havana? A film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, days after the director had finished editing it. A film about family and friends, about plans that don't work out and a few that just might. You get Juan of the Dead.

This film was a project that received support from both the Spanish and Cuban governments. Like many movies at Toronto After Dark, it has a writer/director: Alejandro Brugues. To celebrate his second directorial feature, Brugues was invited to TAD, but was unable to attend. Instead he sent a message which was enjoyed by the crowd.

Enough background, on to the movie!

The opening scene could be post-apocalyptic; a man alone on a raft just floating. An underwater shot coming up to attack him. It's not a shark, but his friend, Lazaro, who was fishing with a small harpoon gun. Keep an eye on that harpoon gun. They talk about sailing off to Miami, but Juan doesn't want to have to hold down a job. Juan does have a destiny and a direction. He's a survivor, with a self defining speech to prove it.

He just didn't expect to have to survive zombies.

Juan lives in an apartment with a faulty elevator. He's a hustler who helps his elderly neighbours on one hand, and has affairs on the other. Despite being estranged from his own daughter, he gives Lazaro advice on how to deal with his son Vladi California. Both Lazaro and California are part of Juan's gang, which also includes a gay prostitute, La China, and El Primo, his bruiser of a boyfriend who faints at the sight of blood.

Like many zombie movies, this misfit band join together. Unlike many zombie movies, our heroes take a while to figure out what these creatures are. Garlic, crucifixes, and a discussion of silver bullets occur before they settle on head traumas. There's an assortment of unique kill styles that had the audience cheering.

Using the scenery of Havana, great cut-away shots, and large crowds of zombies, Juan of the Dead is a visual treat. This is enhanced by a well written script, which lets you care about our heroes, as despicable as they can be at times. It is a movie about families. It's about plans that will go bad, but that are better than no plan at all. It is about acknowledging your situation and overcoming (or profiting) from it.

It's a lot of fun.

After seeing it twice, Sunny gives this movie four Cuba Libres out of five.

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