Infused with a nutty energy, a sly sense of satire and a surprising emotional undertow in its final third, writer-director editor Shinchiro Ueda’s joyous flick takes the standard low budget horror debut route, then uses it as a jumping off point into more original, funnier smarter areas. You are better to go in cold, so if you want to preserve its genius, bale out now.
One Cut Of The Dead is essentially three films in one — a zombie flick done in one 37-minute take, a-making-of-a-movie movie and a winning family comedy — and, while it doesn’t always sustain the whirlwind it starts with, it pays dividends to stick around through all zones of its craziness.
The first third is a delight. Opening with a fake out, a small film crew is making a zombie flick in a disused water filtration factory, the team getting annoyed with director Higuarashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) going all Michael Bay and screaming at his actress for not being real enough. It emerges the location was chosen because urban legend says it was used for human reanimation experiments during the war. Wouldn’t you know it, the cast and crew are attacked by a small horde of zombies — this is a low budget affair — and heads, arms and axes all get formally acquainted. For director Higuarashi, it’s a joy — real life reactions to real life peril — and for us it’s energetically imagined lo-fi carnage, captured in one take which, it it isn’t as impressive as Victoria’s, still sweeps you along for the ride.
Only it does take breathers. There is a bizarre interlude where the actors discuss make up woman Nao (Syuhama)’s self defence hobby or a static sequence when the camera is set down as a face-off ensues. These longueurs feel strange but all is revealed. After the horror subsides, we rewind to one month earlier. The gore-fest we’ve just witnessed is a live TV broadcast for the fledgling Zombie Channel and we get immersed into the pre-production of the show. Director Higuarashi is a low-grade karaoke video maker whose motto is "I’m fast, cheap but average" and we gleefully watch as he assembles his motley crew as well as his wife (revealed to be Syuhama) and moody teenage daughter (Mao) who get roped into the mayhem.
After the fun and fury of the first third, the second act feels slow. But like the opening of Back To The Future, it rewards your patience: by the time we get to the shoot, there is pay off after payoff as we see the madcap behind the scenes disasters of the live show. Here, One Cut Of The Dead becomes a celebration of the joys of low budget filmmaking — Truffaut’s Day For Night but with The Evil Dead — and makes you root for Higuarashi (Hamatsu goes from shout-y to endearing) as he tries to mount something more ambitious than his usual fare. How he achieves the climactic crane shot will have you cheering — and possibly — crying in the aisles.