One Cut of the Dead begins with a single, unbroken, thirty-minute shot of a crew of filmmakers–making a zombie movie–being attacked by real zombies. It’s impressive from a technical standpoint but the story, characters, effects are nothing to write home about. If you went into this film blind you’d think it was another run-of-the-mill zombie b-movie with nothing new to say about the genre. Make it past that 30 minutes and you’d be wrong. It’s rare that a movie takes such a 360 turn but One Cut of the Dead is special. So much so that if you plan on or are interested in seeing this film I recommend you stop reading right here. This movie has a twist. A big one and I’d hate to spoil the gift that is the last 65 minutes of One Cut of the Dead
As I said, we’re following a crew of filmmakers making a one-take zombie film only for their experience to turn into a real one-take zombie film. Crew members are picked off by old school Romero zombies with missing limbs and gushing blood. The style is manic with a grainy grindhouse look and the story is as bare as bones bleaching in the sun. Our crew is whittled down to a single actress fighting for her life and overcoming an undead onslaught. Then the credits roll. Wait, what?
We pull out from a screen and then cut to a shot of Tokyo a month earlier. The film style is cleaner and more contemporary. We see a crew of people working in a television studio, including the zombie film’s director Takayuki. This is the moment we learn the truth. This is a film about the making of a fictional one-take zombie movie that turns into a real zombie movie. So there are no real zombies. The movie isn’t even a horror movie. It’s a comedy.
Takayuki is a struggling TV director hired by executives launching a zombie TV channel to make a one-take 30-minute zombie film to air live. This means the rest of the film is Takayuki gathering his crew, rehearsing with his actors, and struggling to execute what seems like a stupid yet daunting task. He’s also dealing with a widening rift between him and his teenage daughter, making minimal effort to connect with her. Wait, it’s a family drama too?
What’s great is we get to see why certain decisions and mistakes were made. Like one character who gets diarrhea, they have to shoot around or lingering too long on certain shots to get the next scene ready. You feel like you get a great sense of how films are made with One Cut of the Dead. This combined with a loose comedic style gives the film a Christopher Guest vibe. It’s a shame we only get an hour of it.
One Cut of the Dead is meta, it’s bold, and it’s cheap. The film is said to have cost $25,000 which is amazing considering its ambition. It’s also amazing because this film has made over $30 million worldwide. If that’s not inspiring I don’t know what’s inspiring. It’s nice to see hardworking filmmakers get a break every now and then.
Just so we can see the lengths that this group went to make this film, the end credits include the actual making of the one-take zombie film and I’m not gonna lie, I could watch a whole film of that. A whole film about making a comedy about making a zombie movie that’s about making a zombie movie. Whew. I think someone just ate my brain.