‘One Cut of the Dead’ and the Magic of Genuine Surprise

Sometimes, I come across a movie that’s so unique and so weird that I find myself at sort of a loss for words. Not because the film is indescribably amazing or anything like that, but because the very act of trying to give a synopsis spoils it. These are the kinds of movies that are best gone into completely blind, and having it reveal itself to you in real time as part of the experience. Movies like Malignant, which go from 0-100 on a dime and ramp up to batshit crazy levels that would be impossible to predict, are fantastic films to watch with friends that haven’t seen it, watching their reactions as things go nuts onscreen.

A twist can make or break a film. With some, like The Sixth Sense, it’s all anyone remembers about the film, overshadowing everything else that came before it. With others, like High Tension, the twist completely destroys the logic of the film, having clearly been added for nothing more than blatant shock value. But then there’s Malignant, a film whose twist comes so far out of left field that it genuinely changes the type of film that you’re watching. It seems silly at first, as you try and overcome the disorientation, but then it grows on you, and by the end, you think what you just watched was absolutely brilliant.

Mad, but brilliant.

One Cut of the Dead, isn’t quite on the same level as Malignant. As in, it’s not a film that relies on insane levels of plot escalation or bizarre twists pulled from thin air. But I have almost the same trouble writing about it as I did Malignant because the details of the film’s narrative are so central to the experience of viewing it that to spoil anything would be doing it a grave disservice. It’s such a clever and inventive format for a film, I’m genuinely amazed that it hasn’t been done before, and I found myself genuinely in awe of how insanely ingenious it ends up becoming by the time the credits roll.

So how exactly do I write a substantial blog post recommending you watch it, if I really can’t say anything about it? Well, I can give you what would essentially be the DVD blurb: One Cut of the Dead is a 2017 Japanese zombie film shot entirely in one take.

Does that interest you enough to seek it out? Probably not.

It was enough to pique my interest though, as one-take films are incredibly fascinating to me on a technical level, so I rented it for a couple bucks and gave it a go. And… it’s not great. The zombie film itself is very amateurish, full of so-so acting and weird, obvious errors. Sure, it was filmed all in one take, which is certainly impressive, but it looked like they were really struggling to make it work at several points during the narrative. It’s cheesy, not always in a good way, but oddly charming. It’s also hilarious, but I couldn’t tell if it was trying to be or not.

By the time the film ended after about thirty minutes, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. This thing felt like a half-baked student film. So why is it currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes? Was I just underestimating the amount of work that went into it? Was there something I wasn’t getting? Was it a cultural thing, lost in translation, that only Japanese audiences could really connect with? Frankly, I was at a loss.

But then, I realized that there was still an hour left of the runtime.

To say literally anything else would ruin what is, perhaps, one of the most pleasantly surprising experiences I’ve had with a movie in quite some time. One Cut of the Dead is a shockingly complex film, one that deliberately misdirects the viewer numerous times as it peels back more and more layers of itself.  From a thematic, narrative, and stylistic standpoint, comparing it to something like The Prestige is about as far off-target as I could possibly get, and yet, they have the same effect: Watching this film multiple times is really going to add to the experience.

I had a massive grin on my face watching this movie. It’s incredibly fun, in the most unexpected of ways. If you like things like K-Dramas or Japanese game shows, there’s going to be things in One Cut of the Dead that you’ll absolutely love.

This is not really a horror movie. I actually don’t know what I’d classify it as. Again, having to pigeonhole it into a genre would give away some of its best tricks. But it’s a perfect watch for the Halloween season, in my opinion, especially if you have a love for horror films and all the work that goes into them.

So go watch it! Don’t read anything about it, reviews or otherwise, and avoid the Wikipedia page like the plague. Go into this film completely blind, save for what you’ve read here, and I promise you: You’ll have a great time.

Seen it already? Tell me what you thought! But try not to spoil it!

And, as always, Happy Halloween!

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