Film Review: One Cut of the Dead

An original entry into the horror comedy canon. POM!
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“The first 37 minutes suck, but…” is a really bad way to start an endorsement for a movie. There’s a lot you can do in 37 minutes. Cook a good meal. Knock out a few chapters in that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Watch 75% of an episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” All better things to do with your time than “watch a generic, amateurish shakycam zombie movie.” Life is short, after all, even without the living dead in the mix.
 
And yet, those who stick with Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead, screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival, will be rewarded with a nimble little horror… comedy… mock-documentary…? It’s a difficult film to categorize, but the basics are these: One Cut of the Dead starts as a movie about a movie set that’s overtaken by zombies. The pacing is stilted, the dialogue is bad, and the visuals are awful. Cut credits. Then Cut of the Dead becomes a (still fictional) movie about the making of the movie we just saw. And look! There's production value this time!
 
Our movie-within-the-movie director, Higurashi (Takayumi Hamatsu), prides himself on being “fast, cheap, but average,” which is exactly the sort of person a pair of producers want for their half-hour zombie program, to be shot in one take and broadcast live. It’s that “live” bit that causes problems. The middle section of One Cut of the Dead introduces us to the people behind the film—Higurashi, his retired actor wife and aspiring filmmaker daughter, who a wannabe auteur who disdains her father’s cheap, quick ’n’ dirty techniques, among them. There’s also the heartthrob actor who’s too full of himself, another actor with an alcohol problem and one who keeps complaining of intestinal problems. (That’ll come up later. Or, rather, out.)
 
This second act is better than the first—it’s hard not to be—but it’s still plodding, if mercifully short. It’s all set-up for the third act, which is where One Cut of the Dead really comes into focus. Here, we get the shooting of the movie within the movie. Actors don’t show up, requiring Higurashi and his wife to step in. Equipment is broken. Actors go off-script and, in one memorable case, go full Method Acting zombie fighting as the bewildered crew looks on, wondering how the hell they’re supposed to keep this story moving along.
 
Suddenly, a lot about One Cut of the Dead (the movie within the movie) makes sense. Oh, that's why that character barked "keep filming!" directly into the camera, even though the cameraman's not a character. It’s almost enough to make you want to rewatch the first act, just to see all the little behind-the-scenes details you didn’t catch the first time around. Almost. For those resilient enough to make it through to the good bits, One Cut of the Dead proves an original and fun entry into the horror comedy canon.