It seems a lot of American critics saw only the surface criticisms of the film, and ignored the equally scathing critique of capitalism contained therein. US pundits, who raved about the movie, sought to use it as a propaganda piece for their own purposes, ignoring the complexity. Predictable.
The film contains an obvious set of barbs skewering the Cuban socialistic system for its shortfalls. It is cut off, with an embargo from the US for fifty years, because the US doesn’t like to have bad examples where the people get health care, for example. The Cuban economy has been hit pretty badly, but it still attracts tourists from across Europe and Latin America, as acknowledged in the film.
Juan and his gang are low level criminals, thieves, grifters, opportunists. Here’s where the unacknowledged critique of capitalism enters the story. When the zombiepocalypse hits, Juan takes it upon himself to start a Ghostbusters type zombie killing service – for a fee. He’s a mercenary, entirely in it for the money and unwilling to help others because it’s the right thing to do. Did you catch that?
He’s a criminal turned capitalist. They are closely related.
His sidekick then literally machetes a man to death, not a zombie, a man who owes him money. Driven by the desire to have money, he murders a begging neighbor in broad daylight.
While the anachronistic Cuban state TV propaganda receives much deserved satire, so too does the mercenary ruthlessness of disaster capitalism. Both these extremes are lampooned. This also elevates the film well above and beyond the simpleminded propaganda championed by simplistic US proponents. It takes a broader view, a more mature view of economic realities and shortcomings.
To bring the story full circle, Juan reconsiders his own personal self-interest by film’s close. Instead of running off to America with the others, he does a 180. As a patriotic Cuban, he returns to shore to do battle with the zombie hordes and save Cuba: a selfless act in the interest of the many, not of his own skin.
The deeper message is one of sacrificing for the good of the people, the socialistic ideal. The Cuban government, while evolving from the structures of the old Soviet times, retains this sense of the good of the many over the profit desires of psychopathic billionaires from abroad. That much is reinforced in the film. It takes some knowledge of the world beyond US State Department propaganda, though.
Juan is not a great zombie film, but it is a unique one. It’s an interesting take on a part of the world we don’t see too much.