by Hope Madden
Back in 2017, Shin’ichirô Ueda made a truly clever zombie comedy with no zombies or horror in it. It was a film within a film that delightfully hacked away at the undignified and thrilling process of moviemaking.
Between 2017 and 2023, two things have happened worth noting. 1) French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has remade Ueda’s movie. 2) I made an independent film. The first point will be the focus, but the second is worth bringing up because Hazanavicius’s Final Cut is an entirely different experience for me now. It made my stomach hurt. Not in a bad way – I mean, that’s never pleasant, but Hazanavicius mines Ueda’s material to create the same compelling, queasying anxiety that likely all filmmakers know.
How charmingly insane is it that the writer/director behind the 2011 surprise Oscar winner The Artist has remade Ueda’s shoestring zombie insanity One Cut of the Dead? He seems such an odd match, with his very fluid, very French comic sensibilities. And his Oscar. But maybe this story compelled him because it’s every filmmaker’s living nightmare.
The screenplay, which he adapted, is almost exactly the same except for a handful of jokes that explain how very Japanese the content is. (The zombies, for instance, are the undead result of Japanese military experiments. “Japanese? Here?” asks one actress. “Improbable, but not impossible,” answers her co-star.)
Like Ueda’s original, Final Cut is split basically into two movies. In the first, the cast and crew of a low-budget zombie flick find their set under attack from real zombies. The zealot auteur (Romain Duris) films on, gleeful at the authenticity his movie has finally achieved.
It’s a clever way to deconstruct filmmaking, but it’s only the beginning. And even though Final Cut is a remake, the likelihood that you missed the original requires that I forego additional plot details. I’d hate to spoil the silly ingenuity to come.
Duris is wonderful in a lead performance that requires a lot. Finnegan Oldfield brings wonderful layers to his pretentious young actor character and the whole ensemble seems to have a blast.
Final Cut is missing the manic, raw authenticity of Ueda’s original, though. It feels too well constructed, its jokes too perfectly timed and placed. And yet it is otherwise so similar to One Cut of the Dead that it’s tough not to wonder over the point of remaking it.
If you have not seen One Cut of the Dead, this is a fun film but you should do yourself the favor of finding the original. If you have seen it, Final Cut a good time. If you’re a filmmaker, bring the Pepto.