Friday, 11 January 2019

One Cut of the Dead

Shin'ichirô Ueda, 2017, Japan
(カメラを止めるな! Kamera o Tomeru na!, lit. "Don't Stop the Camera!")

At FrightFest 2018, there was a lot of buzz about ‘One Cut of the Dead’ and it then went on to appear on several “best of festival” lists. But I missed it as it wasn’t on the main screen but at the Prince Charles Cinema: I always had the impression that I had missed out. Well, it’s returned to the Prince Charles, by popular demand apparently and certainly when I went it was a packed house: judging by social media, there were many people who had missed this at FrightFest and were catching up.

I had carefully avoided hearing too much about it and I recommend you doing the same, if possible. I knew it was a “filming during a zombie apocalypse” kind of thing, mumble-mumble, and that it had undead, obviously, but little else. This meant I was able to enjoy its surprises to the fullest. By way of highlighting how much fun this turns out to be, let me just say that you shouldn’t be fooled by the apparent negligible moments of pacing and acting and scripting or whatever of the first half and stay with it for the long-game. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you should stop reading now.

And then, like ‘Climax’, halfway through, the credits come, it seems, and the intrigue is upped. But whereas Gasper Noe's halfway mark denotes a following decent into hell, Ueda then presents the trouble with conjuring one up. It’s a cannier film than at first appears, doubling back and drawing laughs from the same material just seen by introducing a new perspective and context. Many of those things that initially seemed “off” hit home as jokes. In this way, Ueda’s supple script traversing the perspectives of “laughing at” and “laughing with” with cheerful aplomb, celebrating and gently lampooning shaky-camera horror and improvisation. 

It doesn’t need too much characterisation, just archetypes, but it’s all satirical enough: the hapless director chosen for self-publicising as average; the slightly arrogant lead; the woman who takes her role too seriously; the drunken extra, etc. It has a touch of bad taste, a dollop of silliness and a faint appeal to sentiment, but it’s structure and speed means that there is never too much of any one thing. It’s a joyous celebration of gung-ho low-budget film-making.

By being slightly meta-genre, it’s both fun and knowing enough to please both the demands of comedy and consideration. As a horror behind-the-scenes farce, its entertainment value and building reputation is bound to give ‘One Cut of the Dead’ cult longevity. 

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