June 20, 2024

‘One Cut of the Dead’-The Exception to the Rule

I hate movies about making movies. It’s a pet peeve of mine. There are unending depths to the human experience; thousands of years of blood sweat and toil across the entire globe – heartbreaks, betrayals, friendships, love affairs, plagues, victories, crushing defeats and glory. Out of all the myriad stories we can tell, you picked a film set?

I have worked on both high-end film sets and independent film productions. The work is often mundane and monotonous and in no way resembles the art that ends up projected on a screen. There’s a reason the saying “hurry up and wait” is repeated a thousand times by bored crew members on any given production. Why are filmmakers compelled to make movies about movies? I have a theory as to why this happens. We grew up worshipping the movies that shaped our lives; Indiana Jones, Goonies, Labyrinth, Star Wars; we fell in love with the grand adventure and strove to be creators of such fantastical tales. So we became filmmakers. To be in charge of a large production takes time. One has to work her way up through the industry and have a career. So we toil away on film sets, honing our craft, building our network, striving towards the goal of becoming a master storyteller. We spend 12+ hours a day for weeks on end to create someone else’s vision. We follow the trade magazines, interact with our mentors on social media. We immerse ourselves in cinema because it is our first love and our sweet fix. What we fail to do is have the adventures equal to the heroes with whom we initially fell in love. So when we finally have the opportunity to express our own ideas, the well is not so deep. We didn’t live a life of adventure. So we make movies about our experiences. Which is being on set. Because that’s the only world we really know well.

My intolerance for movies about filmmaking is equally balanced by my obsession with zombies; if there are flesh-eating corpses, I will watch any piece of garbage movie at least once. That’s how I found myself on a 15-hour flight from PDX to SGN (Ho Chi Minh City), flipping through movie options and settled on a low budget zombie film from Japan called One Cut of the Dead. After my second plastic cup of whiskey on the rocks, I leaned my coach seat as far back as it would allow and popped the movie on and settled in. The film begins in the found footage genre as we follow a low-budget film crew through the eyes of the camera operator. “Oh great”, I thought. “Another mediocre movie about making movies”. My concerns quickly proved correct. Lots of cliches piled up. There is the fanatical director who demands his “vision”. The meek lead actress who has a burgeoning relationship with her co-star. The disinterested sound guy. We overhear the cast and crew deliver exposition that the abandoned factory was chosen as a location because of an urban legend of zombie attacks happened in the exact spot. It doesn’t take long before the cast & crew start dropping left and right. The gentle PM who previously kills time with the crew showing off her self-defense moves turns into a crazed ax-wielding zombie slayer. The film is captured in one long shot without any editing. It’s an interesting gimmick for a zombie movie (if not too original) but with the change in air pressure on my flight, and the whiskey hitting my system, I became bored and fell asleep after 15 minutes. I woke up hours later and the film had finished playing. One Cut of the Dead just reinforced my dislike for movies about making movies.

I was surprised a few months later when, listening to Shockwaves Podcast (since canceled), Dr. Rebekah McKendry could not stop gushing about how much she loved One Cut of the Dead. I don’t always agree with Professor McKendry’s opinions, but I greatly respect her judgment. How could she be talking about the same movie? She was cryptic with her review but encouraged her audience to stick with it past the 20-minute mark. I saw One Cut of The Dead was released on Shudder and decided to give it another try.

I am so glad I did. It proved to be the “exception to the rule.” One Cut of the Dead is one of the sweetest, silliest, and heartwarming films I have seen in a long time. The less you know about the movie the better. It reminded me about why I started a career in filmmaking in the first place; the camaraderie and the teamwork to reach a goal. The way we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones to achieve great things for the sake of art. I thought I was immune to movies about filmmaking and now like a punch drunk teenager, I fell head over heels for this darling indie zombie film from Japan. Just please, give it more than twenty minutes.


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