Director: Michel Hazenavicius (France, USA, UK. Japan). Year of Release: 2022
A small troupe of actors and film people are making a 30 minute Zombie movie to be shown live, The director rushes around in a Hawaiian type shirt, primping egos and telling stars not to be so up themselves. Above all he is trying to hold everything together, especially after the film apparently gets infiltrated by real Zombies. Nonetheless he tells his actors – who are inexplicably all playing characters with Japanese names – to keep on mugging to the camera.
While the director goes off to solve one of the many on-set problems, the cast start talking amongst themselves. One mentions that they are filming on the site of a graveyard and the site of real life Zombies (note to self: can Zombies be real life? Isn’t the point that that’s exactly what they aren’t?) Still killing time, she tells them about her martial arts hobby. When urged to demonstrate, she attacks and paralyses the main actor who is twice her size.
This goes on for half an hour. The acting is generally terrible, and every so often people go in and out of shot. The director gets increasingly agitated, and the actress who dabbles in martial arts goes manic. The lead actor stumbles around declaring that Zombie films are really about fly away capitalist consumerism, while no-one else pays him much attention. There is a lot of blood, but not much coherence. This is just a load of bad actors trying their best, which is not very good at all.
Which brings us to the film’s joke. There is only one joke, and it’s not too bad, but hardly something that can sustain a two hour film. This looks like a bad movie, because this is exactly what it is. The director has been commissioned to produce something cheap and cheerful for a rip-off Japanese producer. All the audience needs do is sit back and look down on people less intelligent than us who might actually like this sort of crap.
After the opening half hour, the film twice recreates these scenes. First time round we go back one month and witness the rehearsals which brought us to where we are. We see the steady loss of actors and cameramen which made the makeshift cast even more slapdash. We then see the opening 30 minutes once more, only this time the camera pulls back and reveals exactly how the opaque scenes consisted of actors and crew improvising while something went wrong off screen.
As filming proceeds, a cameraman gets attached to part of the scenery, causing some scenes to take place literally off camera. Cast members get pissed or otherwise inconvenienced, meaning that some of the Zombie vomit that you see is actually actors struggling with the workings of their digestive systems. There is a protracted scene of one of the actors shitting himself, which is hilarious if you like that sort of thing. Otherwise, it is deeply embarrassingly unfunny.
Final Cut of the Dead is a one concept film, which I guess is one concept more than many others. But once the film’s joke – that trashy “B” movies are really trashy – is done, there is nowhere else to go, so it repeats the joke until the little humour it did have is kicked out of it. I’m sure there is an audience out there for a film which gets an incredible amount of inane pleasure from a man with diarrhoea. I’m just not so sure that I’m part of that audience.
To be honest, there’s little else to say. After seeing the trailer, I was looking forward to seeing a film which didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and had a sense of its own ridiculousness. To an extent, this sense of levity remains, although it is rarely far away from a certain smugness, that feels that a film about film making is interesting in and of itself (as said by no-one who is not directly involved in the film industry, ever).
So, while you do raise the odd wry smile, you’re never too far away from asking what exactly the point of all this? If I want to see a low budget Zombie film (and quite often I do), there are plenty of others which are much more engaging than this. The joke only works once, and lasts for 5 minutes max in a film that is nearly 2 hours long. We get it. Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it more funny, but increasingly irritating.
I’m sure that there was a board room somewhere where this felt like a brilliant idea. And when this board room awarded a $4-5 million budget, it removed the one thing that would have made this film interesting. It is one thing to experiment with how far you can go with few resources. But this is the film which knows that any time it could call its dad and he could stop it all. And there are just too many films which waste budgets like this already.
Final Cut of the Dead is based on a very low budget Japanese film, of which it’s apparently a nearly identical copy. But there is a difference between holding things together by covering them in gaffer tape, and paying an awful lot of money to get that convincing gaffer tape look. This is a public school punk of a film, so keen to look authentic that it ends up looking like the artificial sham that it is. This is a film which is trying way too hard at something that only works if it’s done naturally.
A decent enough try from the Oscar winning Michel Hazenavicius, but maybe next time, he should leave it to those who really are starved of big money backing and would be able to provide authenticity with a little more credibility.