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BIFF: Juan of the Dead reviewed

Leo Owen continues her Bradford International Film Festival round-up with the much-anticpated Juan of the Dead...


Zombies in cages, burnt out cars – sound familiar? The sixth feature from Argentinean filmmaker,  Alejandro Brugues, is set during a zombie apocalypse and despite its well-worn premise, manages to remain fresh.

The film opens with two friends fishing on a raft who accidentally harpoon a zombie. Failing to notice the corpse reanimating, both men agree to keep it a secret, quickly establishing the tone of Juan of The Dead is more Edgar Wright than Danny Boyle…

The film's titular character and Shaun Of The Dead equivalent is Juan who brags he's a survivor, having made it through the "Special Period". While hanging out at a neighbourhood crime meeting, Juan and his band of misfits observe a zombie disperse the crowd. This very public attack, leads to a full blown outbreak and Juan taking advantage of the situation by setting up a lucrative business to rid families of infected relatives.

Having accidentally discovered zombies are destroyed by a blow to the head, Juan teaches his pals how to clean the streets. His wetsuit wearing best-friend Lazaro and his son California join the team, alongside a radio stealing transsexual called China and Juan's hot daughter Camilla. China's buff beau is the final honourary gang member who comically can't stand the sight of blood so is shown fighting blindfolded as China yells instructions: "Knee to the north…"

Juan Of The Dead is crammed full of so many wrong-but-funny moments it's impossible not to enjoy. When a small boy boasts, "My dad's better than you", Juan coolly replies "But he's a sodomite…" Juan is more interested in capitalising on the situation than helping others, telling a desperate client “…it will cost extra to kill the Paralympics games winner”.

Director Alejandro Brugues also light-heartedly signposts forthcoming hurdles his dubious heroes face and manages to create some kind of social commentary about the state of Cuba through passing references. He makes plenty of digs at censorship, spin-doctors and propaganda through TV news footage, referring to the zombies as "dissident groups”, “slaves”, “plebs”, “imperialists” and "anti-social people in collusion with the empire". He also pokes fun at horror genre conventions, having Juan try wooden stakes, garlic and crucifixes and even contemplate silver bullets to combat the dead.

Brugues' script is bursting with funny lines and moments, from dominatrix Spaniard zombies to a pirouetted fight sequence and an amusing montage mirroring Sean that boasts an array of unusual weaponry, including cheese wire, catapults, baseball bats and nun-chucks. The script is at its strongest when cleverly referencing classics like Braindead and allowing characters to vent their anger: "Devil damn the blood of the entrails of the mother that gave birth to you!"

Brugues sets the tone with a blood splattered title sequence and scene-setting footage through a telescope. Funky Miami Vice style music inappropriately accompanies fight sequences to heighten their humour and sound effects are amplified to create a comic book effect. His slow-moving zombies play homage to Romero's earliest creation, allowing Juan and pals to easily dodge them. Although the film's cliff-hanger ending is slightly disappointing, it is perfectly complemented by The Sex Pistols' My Way.


Distributor: Metrodome      Running Time: 92 mins    Release Date: May 4 2012