Fantastic Fest Review: Shinichiro Ueda's Zombie Comedy 'One Cut of the Dead'
by Jeremy Kirk
September 26, 2018
It's another year of horror movies, all ranging in subgenre and tone, and you know what that means. Bring on the zombies. Granted, the zombie subgenre has been running rampant for about 15 years straight now, the tropes and setups becoming increasingly banal as time goes by. There's a reason filmmakers continually go back to the zombie well. They keep coming up with new and innovative ways of handling the sub-genre. Take One Cut of the Dead, for instance. On the surface, it seems like another, stale attempt at breaking new ground with old equipment, but this film has something else hidden up its sleeve. One Cut of the Dead ends up being a sweet, funny, little magic trick of a movie that once again reinvents a been-there premise.
Directed by Shinichiro Ueda (Neko Bun No 4), the Japanese film centers around a film crew and their attempt at, you guessed it, making a zombie, horror film. But this isn't just any, run-of-the-mill, zombie flick this crew is making. They are attempting a one-cut, single-take zombie epic unlike anything accomplished before. As the difficulties swarm on set including familial issues and all the objects in the way of art, chaos and hilarity erupt into absolute mayhem. That's all well and good as long as the cameras keep rolling.
This really only gives a very basic idea of what's at work in One Cut of the Dead, a film told in two parts. In the beginning, we see the results of the film crew's work, the single tracking shot that follows the undead action around an abandoned warehouse. The first half of the film may wear on the patience of some viewers, especially those who have spent more than a decade taking in works that follow a similar premise.
It's when the shift comes halfway through One Cut of the Dead that the real magic of Ueda's film comes into play. He takes the action back to the outset of the project, letting us in on the behind-the-scenes turmoil and drama that begins building before the cameras even start rolling. It's in this last half of the film when the whole experience becomes worthwhile and Ueda rewards fans of the subgenre as well as those of us who don't think there's anything fresh to say when it comes to zombie movies.
This is also the point of the film when the real hilarity kicks in, and it kicks in in an overabundance. Ueda, delivering his first, full feature on his own film here, keeps the energy of the entire film at an absolute high, building story and character with each passing minute. You're never quite sure from which direction the next attempt at humor is going to come, but you're pretty sure it'll be a success.
At the same time, One Cut of the Dead offers a very touching story of a father and daughter, the father being the director of the one-take, zombie film, the daughter a die-hard fan of the art form. As the on-screen action comes to a head and the riotous laughter continues from the audience, Ueda casually tugs at the viewers' heartstrings with tremendous results. One Cut of the Dead is not only the funniest, zombie film to come down the pike in a good, long while, it's the most emotionally rewarding.
Like a skilled magician impressing you with a trick and then absolutely blowing your mind when they reveal how the trick was done, One Cut of the Dead is an eye-opening achievement of just how innovative a clichéd subgenre can be. Ueda's satire of the zombie film may easily be brushed aside as another bland entry in the first half, but the ambitious undertaking at work in the film's back half lets the viewer in on just how clever and impressive it is. One Cut of the Dead is truly a zombie film that will energize even the most jaded fans.
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