One Cut of the Dead (Kamera o Tomeru na!): Noises Off! + Zombies = Comedy Gold – Shudder Review (Day 26)

I take a look at a work of absolute low-budget genius.

SUMMARY

A small group is trying to film a low-budget zombie movie called One Cut of the Dead at an abandoned water filtration plant. After failing to get a shot on the 42nd take, Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) calls for a break. The leads, Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya) and Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama), take a break and speak with the make-up artist Nao (Harumi Shuhama), who informs them that the water filtration plant was actually abandoned due to experiments by the Japanese government in trying to raise the dead. They soon discover that there is an actual zombie outbreak happening outside. Moreover, they find out that the director is the one who caused it so that he could film the perfect zombie film. The three are soon on the run from the undead and the director, while the cameraman never stops rolling. Eventually, Chinatsu ends up killing the director and an infected Ko… at which time the director yells cut.

The zombie makeup is top of the line.

We’re then taken back a month to see how exactly this happened. It turns out that this show was intended to be a live broadcast to promote the new Zombie Channel. The gimmick pitched to Director Higurashi was that the movie will be about a director who goes crazy while trying to film a zombie movie and summons real zombies and that it will all be done in one single take. We then see the casting of the movie and how the director is trying to deal with the insane task of shooting a live single-camera zombie movie. The actor playing Ko is a celebrity who has difficulty taking orders, another is a drunk, and another has a sensitive stomach. On the day of the actual shoot, the actors set to play the director and the make-up artist get into a car wreck, forcing the director and his wife to step into their roles. Unfortunately, everything starts to fall apart, with a drunk zombie, a knocked-out cameraman, broken props, and an actress who goes crazy and forgets that she’s acting. Ultimately, the director manages to pull off the impossible, with a little help from his aspiring director daughter, Mao (Mao).

END SUMMARY

I have to start this off with a funny story. I thought I’d seen this movie. Really, I did. I had watched it all the way through once and I had turned it off at the credits. At the time I thought it was really short, only like 40 minutes, but it had been one single take, so I was super impressed anyway. Well, as it turns out, I had literally only watched the first act of the movie. When I signed up for a free week of Shudder in order to watch this movie, I noticed that the runtime was like 90 minutes, so I kept watching through the first credits sequence and finally saw the rest of the movie play out, and it was amazing.

I thought this was near the end. It’s only 1/3 of the way through.

The prompt for this entry was a “Great Low-Budget Film.” Even having only seen the first third of this movie, I was impressed with it, because, again, it is a single take film that ends up being pretty funny even if it’s cheap. Apparently this movie was made for about $25,000 and has grossed over 1000 times its budget in addition to receiving a heavy dose of critical acclaim. While the movie does look cheap and the acting often looks ridiculous, the movie’s script, and its very nature, makes that appropriate. The fact that it’s a cheap movie within a cheap movie within a cheap movie makes almost anything that seems “off” work on one of the levels. Then, add in the multiple levels of meta humor and even the things that don’t work end up working. Bad acting? It’s improv during a live show. Weird moments? It’s someone dealing with a drunk or a crazy co-star. What’s funnier is that, even though I’ve only been in a handful of productions, most of the stuff that happens in this movie has happened to me (minus the axe-wielding).

I mean, the axe wielding is a big thing.

It’s really the third act where we watch the behind-the-scenes of the first act and we see how hard everyone was working to keep it going and how much it was going off of the rails. Since the movie is ostensibly about a production going awry because of a director, it’s balanced in the end by the directors being the heroes who keep solving the problems. Moreover, it drives home exactly how insane an accomplishment the first act is, even if it wasn’t really a live production. Apparently the 37 minute long-take actually took six tries to pull off, but actually doing it as a single take when, like Birdman, you could probably have used editing to make it look like one is an amount of dedication that’s hard to ignore. Making this movie probably looked a lot like the making of the movie found within the movie: A bunch of people working their asses off. 

These people. These wonderful people.

I will say that the big difference between the movie and reality is that in the film, the director is given this task by someone else and is basically told to make it work, whereas Shin’ichirô Ueda, the actual director of this movie, brought it all upon himself. I wonder if he actually enjoyed putting the blame on someone else for this difficult task within his fictional construct.

He also got to vicariously live the dream of throwing zombies at actors as motivation.

Overall, this movie is a combination of a pretty fun zombie film with a really fun, almost zany, comedy. It’s worth signing up for a free week at Shudder to watch it. And no, they’re not paying me, I just like the movie and the service. If they would like to give me a free subscription in order to review their films, though, I wouldn’t say no (hint hint).

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It Follows: Sex Kills, Very, Very Slowly – Shudder Review (Day 11)

This movie was a critical darling and I hate it.

SUMMARY

A young woman named Annie (Bailey Spry) is killed on a beach after running from an invisible force. Later, Oakland University student Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with a boy she’s been dating named Hugh (Jake Weary), but Hugh promptly drugs her. She awakens tied to a chair in an abandoned factory where Hugh informs her that by sleeping with him she’ll now be attacked by a creature that is invisible to everyone but her and can look like anyone. If it catches Jay, it will kill her, then kill Hugh, then so on up the chain of sexual partners. Jay can give it to someone else by sleeping with them. Jay doesn’t believe him until she sees a naked woman walking slowly towards them. Just as the creature gets near Jay, Hugh pulls them both away and drives her home. The next day, the police cannot locate Hugh.

No idea how this happened, given how the entity attacks later.

Jay soon discovers she’s being followed by people that only she can see. Jay’s sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her friends Paul and Yara (Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi) try to help Jay. That night, someone breaks a window upstairs. Paul doesn’t see anyone, but a giant man comes into the girls’ room and attacks Jay. With a neighbor’s help they find Hugh, whose mother resembles the naked woman in the abandoned building. Hugh, real name Jeff, explains that he had a one-night stand and found the monster following him. Jeff advises Jay to pass the curse on to someone else by sleeping with them.

Danger approaches in the form of, and at the pace of, a disabled old woman.

Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay’s neighbor, takes the group to his lake house, only for the entity to attack Jay while in the form of Yara. Jay shoots it in the head, but it recovers and attacks her again. She steals Greg’s car and drives off, but crashes and wakes up with a broken arm. Greg has sex with Jay in the hospital, but still denies the monster exists. A few days later, Jay sees the entity break into Greg’s house. She follows it inside, but sees a half-naked version of Greg’s mother (Leisa Pulido) attack Greg and have sex with his corpse. Jay flees by car and approaches three young men on a boat.

Greg still doesn’t believe in the monster after it punches a hole in a door.

Paul asks Jay to pass it on to him, but she refuses. Paul comes up with a plan to kill the entity by luring it into a pool and electrocuting it. This quickly fails when the entity just starts throwing objects at Jay while she’s in the pool. Paul, who can’t see the entity, accidentally shoots Yara but finally shoots the entity multiple times, causing it to visibly fill the pool with blood. Paul and Jay have sex, then Paul drives by a number of prostitutes. Later, Paul and Jay walk down the street holding hands with a figure walking slowly behind them.

END SUMMARY

I saw this movie when it first came out, before I read anything that the critics had written. I knew, vaguely, that it was being promoted as one of the scariest movies of the decade, but nothing else. I think it was about 30 minutes in that I started to recognize that I wasn’t particularly scared. It was 60 minutes in that I realized that not only was I not scared, I really wasn’t enjoying the movie. At 70 minutes I, along with several people I was seeing it with, started to openly mock the film. So when I found out that this movie, which I not only didn’t love but actually disliked, was listed among the best horror films ever, I was shocked. I watched it again to try and figure out if it had just been the crowd, but nope, still didn’t like it. However, when I got the prompt “Critically Acclaimed Film that I Hate,” I knew this was going to be the one.

Foreshadowing the pool massively was a weird choice that upset me early.

What’s amazing is that I should absolutely love this movie. It does SO MUCH right that it does genuinely merit some appreciation. 

First, the cinematography in this film is great. So many of the shots, right from the start, are a great blend of style and substance, often hiding the monster from the viewer when we’re supposed to be an impartial observer. The first shot in the movie is an almost 2-minute long-cut which does a gradual 360 degree rotation without ever really showing us anything except for a scared woman running. As a huge fan of long-cuts, I have to say, this was amazing and definitely heightened the tension right off the bat. However, it does it with smooth, slow camera movements that resemble the slow, constant pace of the entity throughout the movie. Moreover, by keeping the monster out of frame at times or invisible at others, we, the audience, never know when it’s coming. Most of the movie frames the shots from between the entity and the target, so we never quite see them both at the same time, making us constantly uncertain. It’s a great technique that seems to take its cues from classic horror like the original Halloween, where we didn’t often see the victim and the killer in the same shot, even when they’re in the same room, until the actual attack. Similar to Halloween, too, there are sometimes wide and rotating shots that don’t reveal any imminent danger, only some potential background threat. 

The score in this also does an excellent job of heightening the tension, frequently having discordant sounds and rising tones at times to suggest that danger is present. Since the monster is often invisible, this constantly keeps the viewer on edge. 

The creature itself is a pretty cool idea in some ways, the unstoppable force constantly coming for you, slowly moving towards you no matter what you do. In fact, Ducktales did a great job with the concept in one episode with the “Bombie,” who just slowly chases a target ceaselessly. It can be taken as a metaphor for many things, but I think most people would agree it pretty well represents the reality of death. We first become aware of it through maturity, which is often connected with sex, or the “little death” that comes with it. It will catch everyone eventually, but we can delay it by connecting with others and finding love (or just banging). As someone who constantly expresses their love for horror movies that use the monsters as metaphors, this should work great for me.

This moment was legitimately terrifying.

So, why don’t I like the movie? Well, because at no point at this movie could I ever stop thinking that the main characters are among the dumbest humans alive. Even by horror movie standards, these kids are dumb. They are dealing with what has to be the most easily thwarted monster since the aliens from Signs that somehow were allergic to water. This creature, while it is ceaseless, follows at a pace that is slightly slower than the average walker. Additionally, while it can break into places through windows, the closest thing we see to any “supernatural” strength is when it knocks a hole in a wooden door after hitting it multiple times. So, it’s a slow creature that could be contained in, say, a bank vault or a big pit in the ground or any number of other situations for potentially decades. Yet, no one considers that, nor the idea of passing it to someone who is headed for another country or the idea of passing it to someone that flies a lot or any other of a dozen potential solutions. Instead, they try to kill it after it was already shot in the head without dying, which is possibly the worst idea one could have. So, throughout the entire movie, even though the film itself was so well done, I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it should be to “solve” this problem and I started to resent the stupidity of the leads. It doesn’t help that the STDemon concept already comes off as a little regressive, punishing people just for having sex. 

Sure, let’s put the girl with the broken arm in the pool as bait. Good call.

Overall, while I get what the big deal was with the movie, I still can’t stand this movie.

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Reader Request / Shudder Review – Blood Quantum: Colonialism in the Zombie Apocalypse

We get another solid social allegory film involving zombies and it’s awesome.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) is the chief of police on the fictional Red Crow reserve of the Mi’kmaq, a real Northeastern First Nations people. On a morning in 1981, his badass veteran father, Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman), catches a bunch of fish that don’t die, even when gutted. At the same time, Traylor’s ex-wife Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) informs him that his sons Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) and Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) are both in jail… with a man who is vomiting blood. Attacks start to happen all around the reservation where people suddenly find themselves turned into vicious, bloodthirsty zombies. However, it turns out that the people of the Mi’kmaq are immune to the virus. Soon, the Red Crow reserve is seeing an influx of people seeking shelter, and they must decide whether or not they should allow outsiders onto their land.

BloodQuantum - 1RedCrow
It’s a very ’80s apocalypse, honestly.

END SUMMARY

Zombies have been an excellent source of social commentary ever since George Romero first started really bringing the genre to life, so to speak. This film is a prime example of how you can use something like zombies as a way to hold up a mirror to society’s failures. In this case, after the initial outbreak, we get a picture of how society has changed since, with most places aside from Red Crow having fallen. Red Crow reserve is on an island with only one bridge in and out, so the reserve puts in place what has got to be one of the greatest mass anti-zombie devices ever: a series of walls that funnel the zombies into a massive soil tiller. *Edit* Apparently it’s a Snowblower. I’m from rural Florida. Don’t have much experience with snowblowers. *Edit* It grinds them into nothing in only a few seconds, saving on bullets, and dumps the remains into the river. I’ve seen other movies do similar things, but this movie actually explains that it was done to save on resources, which is awesome.

BloodQuantum - 2Bridge
The fish are already zombies anyway.

Early on in the film, we get a pretty clear picture of what the allegory is going to be for this story when we first see the deluge of white people showing up to the reservation begging for help and believing that the Red Crow people can somehow “cure” zombification. Two of the members of the tribe start talking about what to do with an infected girl in their own language, only for the man to angrily and repeatedly shout “Speak English.” Because even in a time of crisis, he feels entitled enough to demand that other people, on their own land, speaking their own language, who he is asking for help, accommodate him. One of the Mi’kmaq even refers to the girl as “Karen” by accident. That’s basically what this film is, trying to examine the effects of colonialism, all over again, in the modern day. We have a group of First Nation people who are stuck having to decide if they should risk their safety for the sake of helping outsiders.

BloodQuantum - 3Cast
So many great performances.

The title of the movie, Blood Quantum, relates to the blood quantum laws, a series of laws that determined who qualified as a member of a Native American tribe. Obviously, this idea becomes important in this film, since only members of the Mi’kmaq are shown to be immune to the zombification. The question is how far that immunity extends, something that impacts Joseph’s pregnant girlfriend and their future baby. This movie was written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, who is himself a member of the Mi’kmaq, so I’m sure he’s seen the actual impact of these laws in the past.

BloodQuantum - 4Rhymes
Barnaby’s previous film took place on the same reserve.

As far as Zombie movies go, the action in this is pretty great. There’s a lot of solid zombie effects and the zombies themselves are extremely threatening, being faster than most zombies and able to tear people apart with ease. Most of the members of Red Crow are badasses when the time comes to fight some waves of undead, particularly Gisigu, who uses a katana because “you don’t have to reload a sword.”

BloodQuantum - 5Gisigu
Do. NOT. Mess with Gisigu.

Overall, seriously, just a great movie. I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who likes Zombie films. Also, it works pretty well for anyone who likes historical allegory films or just is interested in getting stories focused on another culture.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.