Flatpack Horror: Juan of the Dead
Birmingham’s Flatpack Festival annually delivers an enticing array of films, the only problem being trying to organise your time to see everything the programme has to offer. This year’s showings produced a late night horror evening, including a showing of the Cuban zombie epic, Juan of the Dead. The film follows Juan, a 40-something loafer, as he and his friends attempt to deal with the onslaught of a full-blown zombie invasion by creating a business out of eradicating those affected. Under the banner of ‘We kill your loved ones,’ Juan and his band of zombie hunters, including his estranged daughter, respond to calls for help from various residents of the island armed with whatever weapons they can find.
Whilst sceptical that this would be simply a foreign language remake of the British Shaun of the Dead, the film delivers on as many levels if not more than its predecessor. The similarities are undeniable. The pivotal plot focus surrounds the friendship of Juan and Lazaro, his even more useless best friend, as well as his fractured and complicated relationship with his daughter. But it’s the politics of the plot that really sets Juan a cut above Shaun. Whilst Shaun could be said to pre-empt feelings of unrest and anxiety within British society, (as evidenced by last summer’s riots) Juan reflects on a highly charged political history.
Cuba has a fraught history of political unrest. Following independence from Spain at the turn of the 20th century, there were decades of political uncertainty culminating finally in revolution. Fidel Castro and his party took power in the early 1960s, maintaining and developing close political ties with the USSR. A system of one party rule was put into place with Castro as supreme leader. The relationship with the USSR led to a series of US sanctions on Cuba, worsened only by Castro’s own economic policies. When Castro became too ill to lead the party, his own brother Raul took control in his place. As a result of unrest, poverty and unemployment, many Cubans from the 1960s to the present day have emigrated to the US, as well as to Spain, Portugal and a number of other countries.
The film’s director, Alejandro Brugués, has emphasised the utilisation of his own interaction with Cuba’s history. Being a Cuban himself, he supports the inclusion of a ‘typically Cuban’ cast and plot. Strained relations with the US have led to fear of a US invasion, feelings echoed in the film by the fact that the zombies are described by national news reports as ‘dissidents’ under the employ of the US government. Spawned primarily out of his admiration and love for classic zombie films such as Evil Dead, Juan represents the feelings of Cubans today. Despite being disillusioned and disenchanted with the government, he is still intent on defending the country he loves. There is still a huge sense of patriotism and civic pride gleaned from the cast’s actions.