There has never been a movie quite like One Cut of the Dead. This Japanese import is the very definition of “ingenious.” I cannot tell you why it's ingenious, because it's one of those films where you absolutely must go in completely blind. Do not watch the trailer. Do not let anyone tell you about it. You're safe reading this review, which will spoil nothing. Just do whatever you must to see the movie.
The first 37 minutes are a zombie chiller, done in a single, unbroken shot. What you're watching is...not good. The actors take bizarre pauses, or do inexplicable things. You might understandably ask yourself what you're watching. Then something amazing happens. After the end credits roll on that mini-movie, One Cut of the Dead totally reinvents itself, causing you to see the previous thirty-seven minutes in a whole different light. The effect is clever, hilarious, and deeply, deeply satisfying.
Few films these days contain the element of surprise, for a reason. We frequently see movies for comfort. Knowing what's going to occur in them offers a sense of security. The couple in that rom-com is going to get married at the end. That superhero is going to clobber the villain trying to take over the world. The psycho in that horror movie is going to pop back up at the end, so we know he'll be back to scare us in the next sequel. We don't just expect these things, we want them. We crave that familiarity.
One Cut of the Dead is perfect if you want genuine surprise for a change. The way in which its story shifts cannot be predicted. Once the shift arrives, there are at least a dozen little surprises as the curtain is further pulled back. Several moments are laugh-out-loud hilarious. And in the end, the film serves as a shrewd commentary on cinema itself. Telling you how it does so would be a spoiler. Just know that it does.
The cast members give strong, multi-layered performances. Running underneath the obvious love of movies, One Cut of the Dead also has a theme about families working together, combining their strengths to accomplish a goal. That idea is conveyed with as much humor as the zombie story is, and the strong work from the actors brings it to life.
Perhaps the most important thing to make clear is that One Cut of the Dead is not just a stunt. Yes, the “twist” is the selling point, but director Shinichiro Ueda isn't just showing off. He's made a valentine to filmmaking, one delivered with sincerity, as well as a whole lot of humor.
Don't miss this unique work. You might not have a better time at the movies all year.
Note: One Cut of the Dead will screen in cinemas across the US at a special one-night event on September 17th. For information on where to see it, please visit the official website.
out of four
One Cut of the Dead is unrated, but contains bloody violence and some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.