One Cut Of The Dead
Reviving Dead Love For (Zombie) Movies
By Casey Lee
Everyone's a critic and in this age of ‘nit-pick culture’, it is extremely easy to dismiss a work just based on its face value without looking behind at the process or considerations that were put into making it, or even giving it a fair chance in the court of popular opinion. But creating a work, especially one like making movies, is a laborious process and whether it is deservedly judged as critically acclaimed to win all the prestigious awards, or a dumpster fire that should be immediately extinguished, there should still be a base level of appreciation that we had the honour of watching it, because movie making is still hard and sometimes it takes nothing short of a miracle to even complete.
One Cut of the Dead starts out like one that you would find in the discount bin. It opens with saturated colors, unsteady camera movements, corny lies and a wooden performance by a female lead who pleads to her boyfriend-turned-zombie when he is about to give her the fatal viral bite. As the scene plays out its 47th take, a director bursts out with frustration, decrying the actress' lack of emotional fear in her performance, admonishing her male co-star for attempting to sabotage his masterpiece, and storms off leaving behind a shocked and stressed crew. As heads are cooling, we are brought to witness the derailing of this low-budget production when the zombie movie they are trying to make is predicated by a real zombie phenomenon as some of the crew are gradually infected, all happening without a single blink or cut.
One Cut of the Dead appears to be built upon the shock values of George Romero's predating zombie movies, but its premise surrounding a production crew also brings up questions of whether what we are seeing is abiding to the conventions of the found footage format, or merely a well disguised facade for an intentional construct of a movie. From the very beginning, director and screenwriter Shinichirou Ueda weaves multiple layers of textual commentaries that is an ode to zombie movies, with contextual criticisms of the form he chooses to tell this story. However, his through-line goes beyond the genre, and reaches far deeper into the heart of movie-making itself.
As the movie slowly peels itself back (and away from its nervous one-cut pace), it quickly establishes itself through more conventional modes of storytelling, told with characters, motivations, and circumstances that a struggling filmmaker would be all too familiar with; high concepts, low budget, lack of time and Murphy's damned law. While it would be easy to spot every 'mistake' during the first run-through of the final product, they are put into an entirely different light once the circumstances are connected, and it becomes evident that as much as movies are planned and rehearsed, they are also made of equal parts of dumb luck, 'happy accidents', and improvisational ingenuity.
One Cut of the Dead is the rare and endearing underdog story for filmmakers and film enthusiasts, not only for the characters in the movie, but how this movie made it to screens all over (reading the wiki article on it is fascinating in itself). It rudely pulls out questions, while softly assures us with why do the people who make movies continue making them. Movie making is hard, and it's a team effort. As the final shot of this movie is pulled through a human pyramid, we, as audiences (like the suited executives sitting comfortably in their studio making baseless comments), have to remind ourselves, sometimes it's not worth hating something made out of love.