One Cut of the Dead (2017) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Zombie movies still manage to appeal to me, but there are so many bad ones out there. The long take has become more and more of a filmmaker trend now after Emmanuel Lewbeski really ran with it in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), which won the best picture that year. The odds of a zombie movie boasting a thirty-minute plus continuous shot can’t possibly be a great movie…right? Well, One Cut of the Dead (2017) is absolutely an outstanding film in a variety of ways, and its originality and comedy come at the viewer in bulk.

One Cut of the Dead is a zombie film for the ages

Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) has found the perfect location for his new zombie movie, if only his two stars Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) and Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) could perform as he wanted. However, the fact that there are actual zombies surrounding the building may bring the realism he’s looking for in their performances, as long as they can survive. This is the set up of what will be the focus for the first act of the film, and from there on, it is hard to decide what exactly constitutes a spoiler.

Instead of discussing the plot any further, I’ll shift my focus on the technical elements and the performances of the film. Doing any scene with a long take creates many challenges that seem to defy one of the primary building blocks of a film: editing. Unlike theater, film actors have the ability to make mistakes, and directors have the option to change the impact of a moment by choosing to cut to a close-up or staying at a distance.  For action scenes, filmmakers can craft a multitude of angles to really showcase the spectacle. While the long take isn’t a new idea, the filmmakers employing them are frequently getting more and more drastic with it. Take Victoria (2015) for example; it is an over two-hour heist film that is shot in entirely one-take. They filmed the entire movie three times over three nights, and while the movie is fine, the spectacle of the long take is what keeps it in the conversation.

One Cut of the Dead’s ambitious long take is executed in strong fashion. There are clear moments where it calls attention to itself, and you are very much aware of the camera operator – who in a way is a character in the film, yet is never addressed to. The moments that feel off, or a product of the long take, are addressed in the second and third acts of the film, making it all the more impressive of a feat. I have become quite a fan of this film technique – or at least in studying those bold enough to employ them – and I was quite impressed with the crew of this film’s execution and implementation of the technique into the plot of their movie.

The fact that this is a film that actually takes time to craft the characters is also refreshing. One of the flaws of many zombie films is that the characters who are in danger are nothing more than fodder for the hungry hordes, and the audience ultimately ends up cheering for their demise and the claws of the dead. There are emotional stakes built in this film although not exactly how or from where you’d expect) that makes this stand out amongst many other films in the genre. Add in that this is ultimately a comedy with characters that have some sense of purpose and depth,  and my love of the film is increased as a whole.

The character of Director Higurashi demands so much of the performance from Takayuki Hamatsu. He is crazy at major moments in the film, but later we get to see that his ambition and self-doubt are constantly at odds with each other. Nao is yet another complex character who also gets quite a bit to do early in the film, as she is talking to Ko and Chinatsu before the real zombies show up. There is far more complexity to all of the characters due to the change in acts 2 and 3 of the film. Again, going into too much detail will definitely alter the viewer’s experience, so I’ll leave it at that.

Final thoughts…

One Cut of the Dead has skyrocketed to the top of my favorite zombie movies. I love the ambition and the humor of the film. I was sent into fits of laughter multiple times from a variety of different causes – sometimes jokes, or sometimes at the revelation of plot elements. If you are able to see this film, you definitely need to – and until it’s available, I recommend you add this to whatever service you use to manage your watch list. One Cut of the Dead earns the Must See rating.  

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