This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Michel Hazanavicius’ One Cut of the Dead remake may not innovate, but it still manages to entertain when the zombies are slain.
The only problem with describing One Cut of the Dead as the most pleasant surprise of 2017 is that it neglects to acknowledge it was also one of the most pleasant surprises of 2018, 2019, and 2020. The independent Japanese production enjoyed a multi-year festival run, gradually accumulating legions of viewers and accolades and earning more than 1,200 times its modest $25,000 budget despite never acquiring major distribution. It hit streaming just a few months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which eventually gave the zombie film a ravenous audience desperate for great new films to consume. It also inspired some ideas to cash in on the premise over here in the west.
One Cut of the Dead has already received both a television film sequel and short film sequel in Japan, but the extent of its success meant a foreign remake was all but inevitable. And considering that, we’re at the very least fortunate to have gotten a relatively independent French production from The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius. Sure, we’ll probably also end up with a bloated Hollywood adaptation sometime down the line. But at least this first step stays relatively true to the spirit of the original.
It’s practically impossible to give even a basic summary of Final Cut or its predecessor without some amount of spoilers. Suffice it to say this is the story of a film director (Romain Duris) struggling to complete a single-shot film despite an inexperienced cast and crew (most notably Finnegan Oldfield, Matilda Lutz, and Bérénice Bejo).
Oh, and also zombies.
As much a direct sequel as it is a remake.
Hazanavicius wrote the script himself, though extensive portions of Shin’ichirō Ueda’s original One Cut of the Dead script survive more or less intact. It’s a relationship explicitly acknowledged on multiple occasions. Because while the original film merely took a meta approach to filmmaking, Final Cut also takes a meta approach to its relationship with One Cut of the Dead. Yoshiko Takehara reprises her role as a producer of the film within the film, with her character now producing foreign remakes to cash in on the original film’s success. Sound familiar? Final Cut is as much a direct sequel as it is a remake, with the looming specter of the original film’s success now serving as an obstacle for Duris’ character to overcome.
At its best, the film’s willingness to acknowledge the challenges of remaking a beloved original empowers its strongest moments. At its worst, these choices only highlight the ways in which the film pales when compared to its predecessor.
And make no mistake, Final Cut comes nowhere near the heights of One Cut of the Dead. The new performances, despite featuring more established actors, aren’t as believable. The updated script isn’t quite as fresh or funny. And the special effects look noticeably worse despite an obvious increase in budget. If you’re adamantly opposed to films being adapted for foreign markets, this one probably won’t change your mind.
Final Cut succeeds when it’s allowed to stand on its own.
At the same time, it’s hard to deny the many ways in which Final Cut absolutely succeeds. Once you get past the admittedly sluggish first sequence, the film kicks into gear and Duris’ performance has an opportunity to shine.
The film works best when it’s allowed to stand apart from its predecessor. It takes a minute, but when it gets there it’s satisfying to see the new things Hazanavicius and the cast are able to bring to the premise. The self-aware approach to film remakes is refreshing, and if the remainder of the film had been as innovative in its approach, it’s entirely possible this would have approached the quality of the film it’s remaking.
Instead, viewers will have to settle for a film that’s pretty…decent. For most, that will be enough, but that simply means Final Cut is far from the final word on this concept.
Final Cut is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Kino Lorber. Read more articles by Brogan Luke Bouwhuis here.
FINAL CUT - 6/10