Zombies are a bit “old news” at this point. In the 2000s zombies once again burst through a window into our collective imaginations, but over the last decade zombie fatigue has set in, and depictions of the living dead have gradually dispersed, leaving only a few stragglers wandering here and there to be mopped up with a barbed wire-wrapped bat or sawed-off shotgun. That’s not to say, though, that zombie films have been entirely put to rest.
Released in 2017, One Cut of the Dead is a fresh take on a genre that’s mostly worn out its second or third lease on life. From the onset, One Cut of the Dead seems like a standard low budget B-horror movie, albeit one with an intriguing premise. A maniacal director and his beleaguered cast are filming a zombie movie in an abandoned World War 2-era water treatment plant when they are attacked by actual zombies. Instead of running away, the director is delighted, and seems determined to keep the cast on location and the film rolling at any cost.
Zombie stories aren’t just about zombies, though. They may be the skeleton of the genre, but the real rotting meat of most good modern zombie media is the relationship between the people caught in it – how it reveals, transforms and subverts the rules and structures of our society. The Walking Dead is inarguably a story about the survivors, not the zombies, as is the video game-turned-HBO series The Last of Us, and the excellent Train to Busan expertly exposes a latent current of class and generational tension in Korean society, proving that zombies are relatable to more than just a western audience.. One Cut of the Dead eschews both the social tension of survivor drama and the cynical subversion of social mores for something that initially looks more trite and camp. Appearances can be deceiving, though – halfway through the film it mutates and changes genres entirely, becoming an unexpectedly thrilling and surprisingly heartfelt story about the mismatched cast of characters pulling together to make the impossible happen.
I won’t spoil the twist for you, but it’s a story about success, not about failure and division. The genre shift isn’t a trick that every zombie movie could pull, but One Cut of the Dead does it with aplomb, and the box office numbers reflect that underdog success. Mirroring the impossible success of its characters, the film broke box office records by pulling in 31 million dollars on a shoestring budget of only 25,000 dollars, relying heavily on the strength of its plot and the passion of everyone involved.
Although it doesn’t reinvent the genre, One Cut of the Dead pulls its weight as a B-horror movie. Its characters are lovingly-done pastiches of horror movie tropes, it has found-footage style shaky camera that actually works, and has gory-but-schlocky special effects that never cross the line into actually gruesome, and due to its mid-film turnaround, it also functions surprisingly well as both a feel-good team drama and an expertly-crafted love letter to filmmaking and the art of cinema. One Cut of the Dead may not be the new mutation that launches the next zombie film apocalypse, but it’s well worth a watch for the zombie lover and the cinephile alike.
Review by Austin M. (General Reference and Media)