EZMM 2020 Day 4.2: One Cut of the Dead (2017)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

We weren’t supposed to watch One Cut of the Dead. We were trying to keep the budget down and just watch movies that were available on the services we already pay for, Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. We wanted to watch One Cut of the Dead but didn’t want to pay five bucks or do the paperwork for a free trial of Shudder.

So we settled in and cued up Zombie with a Shotgun, which I’d seen a lot of reference to on social media while it was being crowdfunded. It has an interesting premise, had already been released as a web series (in five minute installments) and as a comic book, so a feature film sounded like it should be entertaining – at least the creator, writer/director Hilton Ariel Ruiz, should have no problem telling his story, having already worked it out in two other forms and working for three years to get the movie finished.

A half hour later, we called an audible and changed the night’s viewing schedule. For a film that’s only 79 minutes, those first 30 were painfully slow, inching the story just barely forward with bad acting and no budget. There weren’t even any real zombies despite actors repeatedly saying that the virus was spreading. Hell, cops are even just shooting people who appear infected rather than taking them to the big corporation that is apparently behind the whole thing. I don’t know. Like I said, it was so bad we ponied up five bucks and watched One Cut of the Dead instead.

And damn if that wasn’t the best idea we’ve had in ages.

Made in Japan by first time feature writer/director Shin’ichirô Ueda (well, if you don’t count his 2011 film Rice and Boobs), on a budget of approximately $25,000, One Cut of the Dead, has now grossed over $30 million worldwide. That’s over a thousand times its budget! But grosses don’t equal quality, as we all know. And as the film started, it was almost like we were back with Zombie with a Shotgun levels of quality. The acting is wooden. There are bizarre long pauses in action. There’s some clearly weak improv. And when the action starts, it’s hilariously low budget.

But there was something special going on. Despite all of these technical problems, there was an energy and heart to the production that drew me in. The film follows a low-budget film crew trying to film a zombie movie, but the director (Takayuki Hamatsu) is a maniac who gets fed up with his talentless cast and crew, performs a ritual and summons a plague of real zombies to attack the film set. He then rants and raves about truth while filming the zombie attack! One by one, the characters are killed off until the Final Girl (Yuzuki Akiyama) ends up murdering him on the rooftop where he had scrawled a giant pentagram in blood. Then after 37 minutes the credits rolled, and I was extremely confused. I’d heard a lot of good stuff about this one and nobody had mentioned that it was a short film.

The fact that it was all one continuous shot was a gimmick that worked really well. Plus, there were zombies. And gore. It was cheap, but it had the feel of a homemade film by someone with a love for the material.

Here come the spoilers, folks. I highly recommend backing out now, watching the movie and then coming back.

No, seriously. Get out of here. This review will be here when you get back.

Last chance, folks.

Once the credits finished, a wobbly crane shot angles up to the sky and then a cityscape fades in and “One month ago” appears on-screen. At first I thought, okay, I guess there are zombies somewhere else leading up to what we just saw, but instead we cut to a video crew filming a commercial on a rooftop. And the director is the director who just spent over a half hour running around screaming at people to keep filming guerrilla-style during a zombie attack, Takayuki Higurashi.

Higurashi is a director without a lot of ambition. His motto is “I’m fast, cheap but average.” And that’s just what the producers of a new Zombie TV channel want from the director of their debut project, “One Cut of the Dead” – a live half-hour production done in one continuous shot.

I just started giggling like a schoolgirl at that point.

The next third of the film is a comedy about putting together a low-budget film, from scripting to casting to rehearsal. It’s loaded with amusing little character bits that while a little cliché here and there, all still work. And the best part is that we see that these actors – the real actors making this movie – are all pretty good. The awkwardness of the opening half hour was actors playing actors playing actors in a zombie movie.

That’s just brilliant.

But that’s not all. The final third of the film is the filming of One Cut of the Dead from the perspective of the crew. Suddenly things we didn’t even realize were jokes play out hilariously. Now we know why the actors were improving. Now we know what that strange vomiting zombie was all about. Now we see a group of people pull together and become a family fighting to get this live production done with as few hitches as possible.

It’s not a zombie movie at all. It’s a love letter to independent filmmaking.

Making a movie is damn near impossible. I can’t even conceive of being able to wrangle all the talent, people, effects, and money needed to even make a bad movie. To be honest, most films should end up messes like Zombie with a Shotgun, which makes the end result of One Cut of the Dead all the more impressive. A relatively minimal budget, unknown actors who actually paid to take part as it was a final product of an acting and directing workshop, shot in eight days – two of which were spent doing six takes to finally get it right.

One Cut of the Dead might end up being the best film we watch during this year’s Easter Zombie Movie Marathon.

I am in love.

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