It’s not really en vogue to utilize the term “meta” any longer, it seems. But wow, does One Cut Of The Dead take us to profound new levels of meta-narrative storytelling.
It’ll be a challenge to review this film without spoiling it, but I’m going to do my best. That said, this is a film that would best be experienced going in cold, and I recommend that you do so if you think you’d like to see it. I’m going to dive into the 3 act structure of the film, and even that might spoil some of the experience for you if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing. Just know that it is smarter than it appears to be, is full of heart and laughs (and zombies), and is also a bit of a love letter to filmmaking.
Beginning exactly as you would expect with this title, One Cut Of The Dead is a single-take zombie movie about a filmmaking team who is making a zombie movie. So you’ve got actors in zombie makeup, a tyrannical director, some sloppy filmmaking allowed in an attempt to capture it all in one take, and then some real zombies breaking in on the whole business. It’s funny and already attempting to be somewhat meta, though sloppy and unremarkable. Oddly, the end credits roll some 30 minutes in, and we’re really unsure what to expect from there.
We’re taken back in time to the inception of this live, single take broadcast, and we begin to meet the “real” characters who made up the cast and crew of this film we’ve just seen. In a frankly brilliant feat of screenwriting, we’re efficiently introduced to a core cast and family that we’ll shortly come to empathize with, understand, and root for. I just can’t believe how effectively this movie switches gears to make us care about the people who made a crappy zombie short. But they do this with a seeming ease, and we’re shortly in the corner of our main characters, rooting for their success. The clock is ticking, and ready or not, all of these characters are going to get swept up into this hurried, live, single-take broadcast. Will they be ready?
In the third act, One Cut Of The Dead truly sings. It may be one of the longest setups I’ve ever seen, and it turns into a wholly satisfying payoff. It’s also an absolute love letter to the chaos and anarchy of film production, and you’ll want to cheer by the time the actual end credits roll. And you know what? You don’t tend to expect swelling emotions and goodwill towards men in your heart when you watch zombie movies. That’s what really sets this film apart and makes it bearable in a world overrun by zombie IP.
One Cut of the Dead appears to be director Shinichiro Ueda’s first feature length film and second feature length screenplay after having directed several short films. The restraint and willingness displayed here to delay gratification in a first feature portends a bright future for a filmmaker able to elicit scares, laughs, heart, and complexity out of possibly the most tired subgenre in pop entertainment right now.
And I’m Out.