Final Cut is a comically slavish remake of One Cut of the Dead, and that makes it funnier than the original
Final Cut, the 2022 French film now in US theatres after screening at the Cannes and Tribeca film festivals, offers viewers a shot-by-shot remake of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s 2017 horror-comedy, One Cut of the Dead. That joke might seem a little obvious, considering that both films exploit the gimmick of filming an effects-filled splatter fest in a single, continuous take; nevertheless, the comment is on-point, because the French remake is comically slavish to the original, down to the surreal detail of having French actors play characters with Japanese names. That is not a sign of creative lethargy but a deliberate decision regarding the question at the heart of a cross-country remake: is the point to improve upon the original or to faithfully port over the story to an audience that speaks a different language? Final Cut does both.
Despite being a virtual carbon copy, the remake is, miraculously, funnier than original; ironically, it would not be so funny if its predecessor did not exist. One Cut of the Dead was about what went wrong while while filming a Japanese zombie movie; Final Cut is about what goes wrong while filming a French remake of a Japanese zombie movie, and the similarity between itself and its predecessor are openly embraced, even becoming plot points. Not only does the remake out-meta the original; it is much more clever and satisfying than the similarly themed Matrix: Resurrection. Fans of Ueda’s film will have a blast; newcomers should enjoy themselves even if they miss the inside jokes; and post-modern critics can write effusive essays exploring the extent to which the fictional universe of Final Cut and One Cut of the Dead overlap and/or diverge.
Little more can be said without giving too much away. So if you have not seen Final Cut, watch it before reading further; if you have yet to see One Cut of the Dead, watch it before Final Cut, then return here.
Final Cut Review: Spoilers!
Like One Cut of the Dead, Final Cut begins with a “final girl” being attacked and bitten by her zombie boyfriend, whereupon the fourth wall breaks: the film director yells “Cut,” steps into the scene, and berates his actress (Matilda Lutze) for giving a fake performance. As the movie continues in one continuous shot, and real zombies invade the production, we seem to be watching a word-for-word remake, which turns inexplicably weird when the obviously French actors start calling each other by Japanese names. It’s a surreal paradox: the literal similarity to the original creates something startlingly different, reminding us of the point that Jorges Luis Borges made (in “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote“) that even a fixed text can changes its meaning depending on the surrounding context. References to the Japanese army having conducted experiments in this French location raise questions One Cut of the Dead never had to deal with, namely: Why was the Japanese army operating in France?
If you have seen One Cut of the Dead (which you should have if you are reading this), you probably expect answers and explanations to arrive after Final Cut reveals the the big surprise in the plot: the single-take zombie film is actually a half-hour live television production, and the rest of Final Cut (that is, the film we are watching in the theatre) will explore the making of the film-within-the-film, which bears the same title. You would be right to think along these lines, but the answers and explanations will open a labyrinthine realm of possible interpretations, a garden of forking paths that suggest a multiverse-like crossover.
When the French producer, Mounir (Lyès SalemMounir) offers the job to director Rémi (Romain Duris), he explains that the Japanese did the project a few years ago, and it was a big hit. Underlining the point, Yoshiko Takehara reprises her role as Matsuda, the television executive from One Cut of the Dead. So the two films seem to take place in the same universe, suggesting that Final Cut is not so much a remake of One Cut of the Dead as a sequel about remaking One Cut of the Dead.
However, that does not fully grasp the situation. The behind-the-scenes story depicted in the new movie recreates the one depicted in the original so closely that Final Cut (the actual movie) is every bit as much a remake as Final Cut (the movie-within-the-movie) is. This takes meta to a whole new level: One Cut of the Dead was a movie about making a zombie movie about a film crew shooting a zombie movie; Final Cut is a remake about remaking a zombie movie about a film crew shooting a zombie movie. Try to wrap your head around that!
This extra level turns Final Cut into a self-reflexive commentary on its status as a remake, exploring the push and pull of trying to live up to the original while also trying to add something new. Rémi wants to rewrite the script to make it more accessible to French audiences who “don’t know about zombies” (apparently he is unaware of the 2009 French zombie film The Horde), but he loses his temper during a development meeting, offending Matsuda with a comment about Pearl Harbor, and in retaliation she decrees that he will shoot the script exactly as written, including the Japanese character names.
This leads to a running gag in which every improvisation during the live broadcast is noted as an unauthorized deviation from the script. The Heavy Meta Joke here is that fans of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s film recognize most of these “deviations” because they also happened in One Cut of the Dead. In other words, the alleged differences between the remake and the original are actually just more similarities!
This raises interesting metaphysical possibilities. Why does Matsuda not notice that the same mistakes are happening again. Does this mean that Final Cut and One Cut of the Dead do not take place in the same world but in some kind of parallel universe where the production of the Japanese zombie film went off without a hitch? Is it possible, therefore, that the one-take zombie film in Final Cut is not a remake of the one-take zombie film in One Cut of the Dead but of some other version we never saw? Does this mean that Final Cut is not, after all, a sequel but simply a remake? Does any of this matter? And if it matters, does it matter that it matters?
Final Cut Review: Conclusion
It is perhaps not a good idea to spend too much time contemplating these questions, when the truly important question is whether Final Cut is worth seeing even if you have seen One Cut of the Dead. The answer is yes – and not just because of the film’s meta commentary.
Final Cut has several other things going for it. The single-take photography of the film-within-a-film is more elaborate than in One Cut of the Dead. Some of character beats and small plot points come through more clearly. The makeup effects are even a little bit more over-the-top (although the zombie makeup worn by Grégory Gadebois as the drunken Phillippe is not as good here). The cast inhabit the roles on their own terms and yet seem very much descendants of their predecessors. Finnegan Oldfield plays the young movie star much more obviously as a pretentious dick, who insists on interpreting zombies as a Marxist metaphor, making audiences more likely to approve when Rémi slaps him. The addition of music not only enhances the tension in the film but also the humor. On a couple of occasions, what appears to be non-diegetic music underlining Rémi’s frustration with the production turns out to be Fatih (Jean-Pascal Zadi), rehearsing his music for the film-within-in-a-film; later, Fatih’s exasperation over performing live in synch with a production going continuously off-script becomes an amusing running joke.
Finally, the note of triumph at the end comes across more upliftingly. Rémi, his cast, and crew, do not achieve greatness, but even living up to his personal motto (“Fast, cheap, and decent”) is a success worth celebrating in the face of the numerous pitfalls that had to be overcome. A bit like Ed Wood, Final Cut celebrates the artistic impulse to soldier on and do the best job possible in spite of time, budget, and circumstance – regardless of the result. Even if the quality is less than stellar, the characters’ combined efforts yield something better than it would have been without had they not struggled to rescue the project from disaster.
Final Cut (the film-within-a-film) may be negligible, but Final Cut (the real movie) is a surprising success. A remake about being a remake, it milks its similarity to the original for laughs but never allows its self-referential commentary to devolve into empty naval-gazing. Instead, it celebrates its characters for persevering under pressure generating a surprising amount of genuine warmth along with the bloody carnage.
Final Cut (original title: Coupez!, 2022)
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Why would anyone want to see a French remake that slavishly copies a Japanese cult film? Because it’s a classic case of being the “same thing, only different.” The similarities to the original become plot points humorously commenting on the challenges facing a remake. In the end, Final Cut is part sequel and part remake, making itself a perfect companion piece to One Cut of the Dead – better than the original but dependent on the original to make its point.
Cast: Romain Duris, Bérénice Bejo, Grégory Gadebois, Raika Hazanavicius, Finnegan Oldfield, Matilda Lutz, Sébastien Chassagne, Raphaël Quenard, Lyes Salem, Simone Hazanavicius, Agnès Hurstel, Charlie Dupont, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Luàna Bajrami, Yoshiko Takehara
Credits: Written & Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, based on the screenplay by Shin’ichirô Ueda & Ryoichi Wada. Music by Alexandre Desplat, Cinematography by Jonathan Ricquebourg. 111 min. Language: French. Country: France. Not Rated. US Theatrical Release Date: July 14, 2023.