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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Final Cut’: a zombie film within a film

Dan Webster

Above: Zombies invade the set of a movie about — what else? — zombies. (Photo/Kino Lorber)

Movie review: "Final Cut," directed by Michel Hazanavicius, starring Romain Duris, Finnegan Oldfield, Bérénice Bejo, Yoskiko Takahara. Streaming through

When Japanese filmmaker Shin'ichirô Ueda released his 2017 film “One Cut From the Dead,” he couldn’t have known just how successful it would turn out to be. No film director, not even Steven Spielberg, expects a movie to earn 1,000 times its production budget.

But that’s exactly what happened with Ueda’s film. Made with unknown actors on a $25,000 budget, “One Cut From the Dead” became a box-office sensation, earning more than $30 million worldwide.

And film industry types took notice. Certainly French director Michel Hazanavicius did. Because he decided to remake “One Cut From the Dead,” using French actors – a few of whom were well known – while retaining much of what Ueda (inspired by a stage play written by Rioichi Wada) had originally conceived. Hazanavicius titled his film “Final Cut,” and it’s available for home viewing through Kino Lorber’s streaming service.

I’m not going to give too much away, because the fun of watching “Final Cut” is due to the surprise that’s built into the screenplay’s very essence. But the film is split into three parts, and it’s the first part that sets everything in motion.

We are introduced to what clearly is a low-budget production of what looks to be your typical zombie movie. Romain Duris, the durable French star, portrays Rémi, a director who is attempting something particularly difficult: He’s making a half-hour-long zombie movie and filming it in a single take. That means that for a full half hour, the camera will be running continuously, following one actor after the next as the characters they play fight or flee from ravenous zombies.

Oh, and yeah, during the filming, the actors get attacked by the real thing. Because, it seems, to capture what he considers veracity, Rémi has used as a shooting site a place where Japanese scientists – Japanese scientists? – once ran experiments. So … yeah, real zombies start eating the fake ones.

Only they don’t do so in an especially skilled way. In fact, very little about Rémi’s film shows the slightest bit of filmmaking competence, or is in any way believable, even given the deaths that occur one by one or the buckets of gore that get spilled.

And then, all too soon – or maybe not nearly soon enough – the film is over. And the single surviving character stands alone, like Leatherface at the end of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 gorefest “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” That’s when we shift to part two, followed by part three, and all that took place in part one – from the various shifts in tone to the nonsensical references – is ultimately explained. (Again, “Japanese scientists”? Conducting experiments in France?)

Knowledgeable movie fans will recognize the name Hazanavicius. His 2011 film “The Artist” won five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Jean Dujardin and Best Picture, with Hazanavicius snaring the Oscar for Best Director – beating out the likes of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Terence Malick. And they’ll likely recognize Duris, the veteran actor of such films as 2005’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and 2017’s “All the Money in the World.”

Hazanavicius deserves credit for casting not just Duris but also Finnegan Oldfield, born in England but to a French mother (thus explaining his fluency in French), Bérénice Bejo, who costarred with Dujardin in “The Artist,” and the diminutive Japanese actress Yoshiko Takehara, who is the sole holdover from Ueda’s “One Cut From the Dead.”

And, too, Hazanavicius should be applauded for crafting what starts out as a mere exploitative splatterfest and making it into a movie that turns out to be a love letter to the art of filmmaking itself.

Ultimately, though, credit for “Final Cut” has to revert back to Ueda, whose original idea – by way of the playwright Wada – made Hazanavicius’ project possible in the first place. Just to be clear, “Final Cut” so far has grossed just slightly more than half of what “One Cut From the Dead” has. As Duris’ Rémi says at one point, “The French aren’t always as advanced as the Japanese.”

A century of French film would argue otherwise. But when it comes to zombies and zombie killers, he may have a point.