Wednesday, November 27, 2019

One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead is a 2017 horror/comedy directed by Shinichiro Ueda. It follows the cast and crew of a zombie movie whose shoot in a WWII military facility is interrupted by a real zombie outbreak. Its biggest marketing point is a 37-minute opening shot, filmed in a single take, but its most ambitious efforts don't become apparent until well after the first cut.

One Cut of the Dead might be the smartest film I've ever seen, and it's an incredible exercise in setup and punchline.

Without that 37-minute shot, there's not much chance One Cut would have made a big enough name for itself on the festival circuit for a UK Blu release, and that headline is certainly what drew me to watching it. But I was expecting something truly special from that opening 37 minutes, and I grew quite disappointed as it wore on.

Like most things in filmmaking, everything I know about "oners" comes from Tony Zhao. Using the background and foreground to keep a long shot interesting, how the camera movements give each scene a clear structure - One Cut does none of these things.

Its camera is constantly in motion, failing to properly give focus to characters or events. The actors stumble awkwardly over lines, seemingly improvising sections of dialogue; a couple of times the director character breaks the fourth wall in a way that the other actors seem to ignore. The camera work is haphazard, with an escalating number of crash-zooms towards the finale, where we spend over two minutes zooming in and out on the lead actress screaming while we hear a fight between two other actors off-screen. There's a "crane" shot at the end that looks like the cameraman is climbing a ladder instead of using an actual crane.

It's a slapdash, amateurish affair that can't really live up to either its own ambition or the marketing hype - and that's entirely the point, because One Cut of the Dead has the most impressive re-contextualisation of previously-held knowledge of any film I've ever seen.

To say more would spoil it, and you deserve to see the whole thing yourself.

Just trust me when I say that it is absolutely worth sitting through that sometimes-questionable opening oner.

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