There’s something fitting about a zombie movie remake. To paraphrase Vic Reeves, “You wouldn’t let it die”. And if you’re going to remake a zombie film, why not pick one of the best of recent years. That seems to be the thinking behind Michel Hazanavicius’ Final Cut, a zom-com that faithfully replays Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead, which made a crimson splash in 2017.
As with its predecessor, Final Cut starts with a one-shot, 30-minute film-within-a-film, which shows a production crew who are trying to get their own zombie flick made but have somehow unleashed a curse that brings the dead back to life. The film is not so much a B-movie as a Z-movie (which was the initial title). Think the Sharknado school of filmmaking: so bad its still actually bad.
The rest of the film is a flashback up to and including the making of the film. We meet Rémi Bouillon (Romain Duris), an unambitious, vaguely cynical filmmaker whose motto is “Cheap, fast and decent”. Partly inspired by his cineaste daughter Romy (Simone Hazanavicius, the director’s daughter, meta-klaxon here), Bouillon takes on a seemingly impossible job proposed by a Japanese producer (Yoshiko Takehara): a live broadcast – of a remake – of a Japanese hit film.
Bouillon gathers his cast including a pretentious lead actor – the French Adam Driver – a drunk, a pretty influencer and so on. Part of the fun is anticipating what is going to go wrong and of course everything does gloriously, even as the rehearsal proceeds and Bouillon finds himself having to juggle the demands of his actors and the Japanese backers who want the remake to be so faithfully that the characters all nonsensically retain their Japanese names. This also means that as the live show approaches Bouillon and his martial arts obsessed wife, Nadia (Bérénice Bejo, meta klaxon once more) must step in to fill roles vacated by calamity.
Hazanavicius has shown himself adept at comedy from the Oscar-winning The Artist to his popular spy spoofs, and as the film builds the frequently knockabout comedy is expertly handled. Some of the jokes feel a little tired. And some are repeated in a way which strains their weak sinews. There’s also some culture clash comedy about the Japanese producers that is sub-Lost in Translation. The strength is the physical stuff – the body horror/comedy – and the characters who manage to climb out of caricature.
There’s a beautiful performance here from Duris, an actor more frequently associated with intense dramas such as Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Here he manages to make Bouillon more than simply the desperate creative tearing his hair out, and also lends him real heart as someone who has settled for too little too soon and is finally rediscovering the joy of filmmaking. Smuggled along with the buckets of blood and the backstage snippiness is a heartwarming tale of family connection and creative rebirth (or resurrection).
The only question that remains is why make this film at all. Hazanavicius uses One Cut of the Dead in the film as a way of overtly nodding to his awareness of his own unoriginality. Another argument could be that One Cut of the Dead is heavily influenced – especially in its structure – by Michael Frayn’s 1982 stage play Noises Off, which itself was filmed by the late Peter Bogdanovich in 1992. Your appreciation or otherwise of the film is going to be greatly influenced by whether or not you’ve seen the original, and as such Final Cut doesn’t really elbow its way to the front. However, if you can stand the slight whiff of decomposition then this deconstruction is fun and clever.
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John Bleasdale | @drjonty