Final Cut, Michel Hazanavicius’ remake of the zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead, is quite fun – but is a missed opportunity to do something fresh with the story it has.
The film that opened the 2022 Cannes Film Festival was Final Cut (Coupez!), the new project from The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius. It is notable for being a French remake of One Cut of the Dead, the 2017 zombie comedy by Japanese director Shin’ichirō Ueda. And that was why I was apprehensive heading into this film. I adore One Cut of the Dead, a gory and visceral horror movie that celebrates filmmaking whilst managing to be extremely innovative. Would this remake fail to understand what made the original so perfect? Would Final Cut stand out in its own right? The answer to that question is yes, though with a few caveats.
In Final Cut, a French film crew is shooting a low-budget zombie movie inside an abandoned factory. The director (Romain Duris) is tyrannical on-set, rattling through takes and looking for real emotion from his lead actress (Matilda Lutz). With the crew getting increasingly frustrated with him, it is turning into the shoot from hell. And then actual zombies start appearing and attacking the crew. Is this part of the shoot or a curse caused by Japanese experiments during WWII? The director doesn’t care – he keeps the cameras rolling on the terrified crew to inject some reality into his film. Does he know more than he is letting on? And why are there so many pauses and looks to the camera by these characters?
The answer comes when the credits roll, when what we have seen is revealed to have been a short zombie film shot entirely in one take. The rest of the film concerns all the creative differences, tensions and mishaps behind the scenes. Duris’ character is an actual director, persuaded by some producers into making the film (a remake of the film shown in One Cut of the Dead). That includes controlling his actors like Raphaël (Finnegan Oldfield), who is touted as “the next French Adam Driver” and is very particular about the sociological themes of a zombie movie. Then there is Nadia (Bérénice Bejo), who plays the make-up artist. She is Rémi’s wife, a former actress who has to star when one of the actors gets into a car accident. With all that working against the project, will Rémi and his crew pull off his one-take short? How was Rémi roped into starring? And will the film bring him closer to his budding filmmaker daughter Romy (Simone Hazanavicius)?
Hazanavicius (who is also the scriptwriter and co-editor here) has added some touches that make it clear this is a remake. The project is mentioned as a remake several times. Rémi watches a scene from it at one point. Even one of the cast members (Yoshiko Takehara) returns as one of the Japanese producers. On the other hand, the main thing to know about Final Cut is that it is incredibly faithful to the film it is adapting. Several scenes from One Cut of the Dead feature here, from the main plot of the short to the crying baby during the script reading to the drunkenness of one cast member.
And when the cast needs to stall for time during the film, Nadia talks about learning Krav Maga and demonstrates her moves on Raphaël. It is almost exactly similar to the scene in the original, where the character of Nao uses moves from her self-defence classes. It is weird the film keeps these scenes and moments almost verbatim, particularly as the best moments from Final Cut are when it does things differently. As composer Fatih, Jean-Pascal Zadi is reliably funny as he goes from innocent and cheery to wondering what the hell is going on. And the score packs a surprising punch – probably because it is provided by Alexandre Desplat.
It is clear why Final Cut opened Cannes this year. Like the film it is based on, it is an ode to filmmaking – the flaws, the intricacies and the catharsis you feel completing a film to be enjoyed by others. Those feelings are present here, which is a testament to both the brilliance of Shin’ichirō Ueda’s story and Hazanavicius recognising what needed to be kept. The third act, where the crew do everything they can to keep the film rolling, is still an extremely satisfying watch. However, a remake should really try to add something new to the material it already has. And aside from some nods to the original and references to Adam Driver, the film doesn’t do that. It’s fun but isn’t fresh in the slightest, which feels like a missed opportunity. In the end, Final Cut is quite fun. But if you want an innovative meta zombie comedy that celebrates filmmaking, you should probably check out One Cut of the Dead.