George Carter
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One Cut of the Dead : Movie Review

| Thursday 30th May, 2024

[Written in February 2023 and pulled from my archive today]

I broke one of my cardinal rules of film-watching today. And I’m glad I did.

The rule in question is the twenty-minute rule. I understand many other people follow the same, or a very similar, rule for themselves. Simply stated, it says that one shouldn’t jump to conclusions or dismiss a film until one has given it at least twenty minutes. If, after that point, you can’t stand the pacing, or the style, or don’t care one jot about any of the characters, then by all means abandon it; turn it off; declare it a failure and move on… our lives are short, time is precious, and we don’t want to spend another ninety minutes we’ll never get back sitting in front of something that doesn’t enrich us in any way.

So, why did I break the rule? Why did I carry on watching clearly-terrible film? Why did I put up with wooden acting, bad pacing and amateurish scripting?

The film I was watching was the 2017 Japanese comedy horror “One Cut Of The Dead”. The synopsis—“A film crew’s attempts to film a low-budget zombie movie are frustrated when they are attacked by real-life zombies.”—held so much promise.

And maybe it’s because of the talk of “low-budget” that I held out? Maybe it was the self-referential nature of the film… watching a film about film-making? Little did I know the full extent of the ride I was being taken on… and I can’t really fully explain to you, the reader, about the ride because this film is best experienced blind, knowing as little as possible.

I can say that it is a film of three parts. I can say the the three parts are quite distinct from each other. And I can say that your enjoyment of the movie will very much depend on whether you make it through all three parts.

To give you a taste, the first part had me saying (out loud to my wife sitting next to me), “This is bad, really bad, isn’t it?” I hadn’t even noticed that I was watching an incredibly ambitious half-hour; ambitious not because of the clever writing or amazing effects but because the full first act (and a sub-film in its own right) was filmed entirely in one take; no edits, no cuts, one single, long camera shot.

At the end of the first part, the camera pans out, the credits roll and we fade to black causing my already bewildered brain to take on the harmonic notes of confusion and betrayal. Had ninety minutes passed already? No, it didn’t feel like it…

The second part of the film—set one month before the preceding action—had me saying (once again out loud), “Do you have any idea what we’re watching here?” Morbid curiosity was what kept me hooked, almost like the proverbial “car crash” where you don’t want to look, but you can’t pull your gaze away.

The second part is almost a “making of” for the first part. Maybe I was beginning to care what happened? Maybe I was beginning to care how it all panned out? Or maybe I was just hoping for some kind of resolution to the deep divisions forming in my mind about the very nature of cinema and maybe existence itself.

The third part is where we finally hit our payoff. It’s where the first part finally makes sense. Reading a number of one- and two-star reviews it seems that almost every one of the reviewers didn’t make it to the third part of the film. This is where all of their grievances are explained. “The acting is amateurish”. Yes, that’s the point. “The dialogue has long, awkward pauses”. Yes, there’s a very good—and in my opinion, hilarious—reason for that. “Terrible improvisation”. Again, it’s all explained – once you know the truth you become impressed even by the terrible improvisation.

I wish I could explain more but it’s genuinely best to approach this film with two things in mind: firstly, don’t expect too much; secondly, please hang in there even when every ounce of your being is screaming “turn it off”; and thirdly, go into it with as little prior information as possible.

I was very impressed to learn that while “One Cut of the Dead” is about making a low-budget film, it was itself completed for the miniscule sum of just twenty-five thousand dollars. That is a feat worthy of celebration, and a beautiful cherry on top of the self-referential cake of the whole project.

For me—and I am a big fan of cult films—this is a cult-classic in the making. Maybe it hasn’t had the exposure it needs, or the gestation time required to get on to that hallowed pedestal, but it bears all the hallmarks: low budget, fascinating concept and probably most importantly, a strongly divided review-base calling it at once the ‘worst film ever made’ and ‘a stroke of real genius’.

Maybe that’s why I broke my rule and continued watching this terrible film after my twenty-minute deadline had expired… maybe I recognised I was watching a cult classic unfurl in front of my eyes.

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