The horror genre is, arguably, one of the most predictable movie genres around. Stuffed to the brim with tropes, stereotypes and predictability, it can feel like you’re watching the same film over and over again. However, Japanese filmmaker Shin’ichirô Ueda had a different idea for his zombie flick, One Cut of the Dead. However, does it break new ground, or is it a resurrection of a movie that has already been made?
One Cut of the Dead is a story in three acts. It begins with a group of people who are filming a low-budget zombie horror movie in a disused water filtration plant, but then are attacked by real zombies. Carnage ensues for about half an hour, before the movie takes a completely surprising turn. Without giving too much away, it’ll have you crying, but not in a scared way.
The best way to watch this movie is to know nothing about it. It feeds off of surprise, and it’s honestly one of the best things the movie has going for it. The entire first act is done in one, long 37 minute shot which, in itself, is an unusual take for a horror movie. Playing by the on-screen director, However, it’s stereotypically bad and gory start, is far from the route it takes 37 minutes in.
Heads, arms, and axes are all formally acquainted, and there is enough fake blood splattered about to make even Carrie flinch. However, it’s also rather strange. There’s a weird interlude whereby characters learn of the make-up lady, Nao, reveals her questionable self-defence techniques, and entire fight scene is shot from the floor after the camera is dropped. It all screams amateur flick, but makes sense once the first act is over.
Following on from the rollicking ride that was the first act, the second act seems slow. It’s all a lot of admin: making sure the audience knows the circumstances, ensuring they understand the characters, etc. Perseverance is key throughout this interlude, however – it all leads on to bigger and better things in the third act. The last 40ish minutes are as fun as a family comedy. All is explained, and all is hilarious. It’s like Evil Dead and The English Patient had a baby – and, yes, it’s just as weird as that sounds.
This movie would be nowhere near as funny without the pithy humour of the actors lingering in every scene like the stench of a rotting corpse. Whether it be a confused look, screaming for just a little bit too long, or falling out of character mid-scene, every single shot is a triumph. Highlights include the clumsy cameraman and Nao, who seems to become possessed by a demon when the scene doesn’t quite go her way. Regardless, it makes for a right entertaining 90 minutes.
It’s not often that comedy translates so well through subtitles, either. Considering the whole film is in Japanese, it becomes even more of a feat to get a giggle out of international audiences. This is because of how visual the comedy is: some parts are so animated, they look like they fell straight out of a Pixar movie. Granted, slapstick might not be everyone’s cup of tea but, if it’s yours, this movie is a perfect example of what makes it just so funny.
The contrast between the terror of the living dead and the incompetence of the cast and crew is one that really works. As jarring as it may sound, it forms a unique blend of horror and comedy tropes that result in a movie the whole family can enjoy. Well, maybe not the whole family…but definitely the ones who are old enough.
As far as horror movies go, this one isn’t the best. But that’s because it doesn’t want to be. It’s purpose is to pick fun at horror films, to have fun with the gore and the blood and the violence. It’s creative, inspired, and really quite funny. Even though it takes a little while to get going, that’s all part of its charm; it’s a well oiled machine and, writer/director, Ueda knows exactly what he is doing. As far as zombie movies go, One Cut of the Dead is a damn good one.
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