Juan of the Dead by Alejandro Brugues

Juan of the Dead by Alejandro Brugués

A group of slackers face an army of zombies, as the Cuban government and media claim the living dead are dissidents revolting against the government. They decide the best way to deal with the situation is to start a business helping civilians kill their infected loved ones.

Instead of being a zombie film set in Cuba, Juan of the Dead succeeds by being a film about Cuba with zombies in it. The zombie movie tropes are incorporated and contextualized to make a social commentary about Cuba. I’m all for exploitation films having societal themes and it’s been a while since we have seen a zombie film done this way. It’s not new but yet it feels fresh.

In an American or British film where I would be more familiar with the culture, the characters choosing to profit off of the zombie outbreak by starting a “clean-up” business to kill infected relatives would make them very unlikable. As a viewer who’s foreign to Cuba and its political context, this cultural gap created a foreign gaze which allowed me to look inside Cuba’s struggles and the living conditions. That made it easier to go along with these misfits because it interested me more experiencing their view of life within the Cuban context. That makes for the most engaging parts of Juan of the Dead.

The zombie action set pieces and black comedy gags serve the story well. It hits the mark by being so violent it’s hilarious. Two sequences, one underwater sequence and another featuring a pick-up truck with a harpoon gun, both felt really creative. Havana is realistically incorporated into the action as well.

We get the sense our heroes are not intentionally slackers by choice but more a group of people that couldn’t find a place in a neglecting society and trying to do what they can to survive. I liked this band of misfits and it was entertaining watching them assembling into a team. Their first team outing had me laughing. As a fellow student of martial arts, any protagonist that fights with a pair of nunchukus is alright in my book.

World War Z by Marc Forster

World War Z by Marc Forster

Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic.

I haven’t read the original novel going into World War Z. There have been some complaints that this film departs heavily  from the novel, but apparently the novel reads like a series of personal accounts. If that’s the case, it’s probably more effective to experience the story through a first-person perspective for a film. On with the review…

The PG-13 rating has always been an interesting constraint for horror movies as it cancels the use of gore and forces more ingenuity in creating the scares. Marc Forster creates a constant frantic sense of jeopardy and properly raises the stakes. Even though it’s possible to outsmart and escape from these running zombies, we fear that the characters will eventually fatigue and lose from being outnumbered. The opening set piece was shot too shaky and cut too fast and it seemed like Marc Forster didn’t learn anything from the action in Quantum of Solace. But the set pieces improve as the film progresses.

By the finale, I was fully immersed into this world, alert of everything that can startle the fast-running zombies and looking out for every possible human mistake. I was cringing at every door squeak and wished a can of WD-40 would just fall out of the sky on their laps. That said, the characters don’t make typical stupid horror movie mistakes. Even in times of risk and with the occasional accidental mistake, they take the proper precautions and do the most sensical thing.

Zombie films typically are set in a town or city. What makes World War Z an unique experience is its international scope, we get to see the entire world react to the zombie outbreak. It gives a political and cultural cross-section of how different countries would react to such a catastrophic event. It holds a mirror to our current world. This was the most interesting part of it for personally as it sets itself apart from George Romero films or The Walking Dead.

The most valuable Brad Pitt brings to the film besides his star power is the big-budget production values itself. The cast performs fine but it’s by no means a performance-driven film. The studio has decided to produce a sequel, as the war in the novel lasts for a decade. And it will probably continue to draw from the U.N reports in the novel. Depending if Brad Pitt returns to the role or if the story unfolds with a new protagonist, the story can go either which way. I’ll probably see it then but for now, the epilogue doesn’t tease me that much.