We all know that this Halloween will not look like other Halloweens from years past. And yet, the month of October waits for us all the same. It is about time we put the spirit of Halloween back into that abandoned department store that we call the year of 2020. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together a curated, month-long series called Screen Screams. The day is upon us. Halloween has arrived. As we have seen the evolution of this horror sub-genre, it feels only fitting to end with the most meta zombie flick of all: Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead (2017).
One Cut of the Dead is an extremely low budget film with a cast of unknown actors. Shot on one continuous take, a small cast and crew film a zombie movie in an abandoned water filtration plant. The director, driven mad in the pursuit of his art, demands “real” performances out of his actors. Once actual zombies attack the production, all hell breaks loose. The director is giddy at the prospect of real horror, while the cast and crew must fight their way to freedom.
Horror is a genre that shines as more limitations come to the forefront. Many films we discussed this month featured shoestring budgets or unknown actors. But the challenge of shooting a zombie film in one take is something new. The result is a wildly kinetic film that constantly keeps the audience on their toes. We get everything from terrified closeups to ominous long shots as the camera wickedly weaves through the blood and gore.
Much of what I love about the film comes after a twist that happens partway through. Spoilers ahead: if you plan on watching this film, I strongly recommend you stop reading now. If you don’t mind spoilers or have seen the film already, then allow me to tell you what makes this film more than just another zombie movie.
The twist comes in the form of a time jump to one month prior. The story shifts to a more traditional narrative about the making of the film we have just seen. “One Cut of the Dead”, as it exists within the universe of the film, is an experimental TV show for a zombie channel. It introduces us to the actors and crew behind the characters and all of the personal quirks and problems that everyday people bring to set. The film changes from a horror movie to a movie about the making of a horror movie.
This shift brings in so much personality. Once the production of the show begins, we see a whole new perspective on the events we just watched. Scenes that the audience originally saw now have a new meaning as we see what goes on behind the scenes. Producers panic, actors go off-script, and equipment fails. These are things that plague every production that only get more prominent with the knowledge that everything must be done in one take. They are shooting a horror film, but everything that goes on off-camera is pure comedy.
Towards the end, the equipment needed for the final crane shot falls off the roof of the facility. The director panics; this shot is critical to the story. The producers tell him to cut it. Yet when he witnesses the film’s home stretch, he gets surprised when the cast and crew form a human pyramid. He climbs on top and with his daughter on his shoulders, holding the camera, they are able to get the final shot. This encapsulates what I love not only about this film, but all films: collaboration makes the art of filmmaking possible. The director, writer, and actors are not the only vital people on set. The makeup artists, the script supervisors, the assistant camera operators, and so many more work hard to bring the images to life.
There is so much love and personality packed into this film. One Cut of the Dead is a wonderful love letter to all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making a horror film. It’s a celebration of the people who make horror films. On behalf of Full Circle Cinema, I would like to thank the hundreds of people who made those films possible. Even when darkness closes in, clawing at our flesh and gnashing their teeth, film has the power to foster human connection. – Audrey Griffin
One Cut of the Dead is available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.