Arguably the goriest film to ever open the Cannes Film Festival, Michel Hazanavicius’ meta zombie comedy Final Cut (Coupez!) is also one of the more clever and giddily entertaining ones — at least for those who never saw the original that it’s based on.
Sticking close to the template that made Shinichiro Ueda’s 2017 deconstructed Japanese horror flick a cult hit, raking in $60 million worldwide on a $25,000 budget, the Oscar-winning Hazanavicius (‘The Artist’) is smart enough to apply an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach, keeping nearly everything intact except for the language and cast.
The Bottom Line
A trifling gory pleasure.
The result is a film that could play great to a packed house (if those still exist), taking viewers behind the scenes of a B-movie — or Z-movie, per the original title, which was changed due to its connotations of the Russo-Ukraine War — that goes awfully wrong until it begins to go hilariously right. For gore hounds and movie lovers, the cheap thrill of Final Cut is in seeing how the sausage, blood, brains and lopped-off limbs of horror pics are made, then realizing you can still be both scared and grossed-out. It’s not profound stuff, more like enjoyable fluff that has true crowdpleasing potential.
Like the original, the remake kicks off with a 30-minute uncut sequence in which a zombie movie shoot turns deadly for real, with cast and crew transforming into the bloodsucking undead. After that film ends and the credits roll, we jump back to several weeks earlier, where a second-rate French director, Rémi Bouillon (Romain Duris), is approached by a Japanese producer (Yoshiko Takehara) to helm a horror flick to be made in one uninterrupted take. It’s not Rémi’s cup of tea but he accepts the job, mostly to impress his daughter, the wannabe filmmaker Romy (played by Simone Hazanavicius, who’s the daughter of the actual director, in case things weren’t meta enough).
After plenty of mishaps during pre-pro, including a car accident that injures two of the leads, Rémi is obliged to step in and play the director character in his own movie, while his wife, Nadia (Bérénice Bejo, who, yes, is Hazanavicius’ real-life partner), is cast in another major role. We soon make it back to the start of the 30-minute featurette that kicked off the movie, though this time we get to watch everything unfurl from behind the camera that we’re already behind.
This may not make sense on paper, but it does on screen, and Final Cut’s third act is definitely its strongest, allowing us to discover all that went wrong with the opening segment and turned it into a major schlock fest. What initially seemed like bad filmmaking is not really what is seems — well, it’s still pretty bad, but it’s also much funnier the second time around, as Rémi rushes about like a madman dealing with drunken cast members and ego-tripping stars to save his film from falling apart.
After The Artist and the French New Wave homage Godard Mon Amour, not to mention the two OSS 117 spy flick spoofs, Hazanavicius has become something of a specialist in movies about moviemaking, which makes Final Cut a perfect fit for him. He’s always been a technically proficient director, if not a very cerebral one, and he stages scenes for maximum comic impact here, working with cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (Earwig) to give the footage a gritty, handheld flair.
Some of the gags, like the one where the zombie vomit of one inebriated actor (Grégory Gadebois) turns out to be real vomit, are carried out a few too many times, which is a common trait of French comedies: Repeat a joke until you ultimately ruin it. This can also be the case with all the humor surrounding the horror flick’s two leads, pretentious young star Raphaël (Finnegan Oldfield) and frivolous YouTuber Ava (Matilda Lutz), although Oldfield is so assuredly deadpan in his delivery that his jokes mostly work.
Despite some longueurs at the start and in the mid-section, Hazanavicius keep things fast and lively, bringing in an actual element of danger when we learn that Nadia has a violent past she’s been trying to suppress. Toss in a real axe instead of a prop one, and everything is set for a blood-soaked finale, although again, it’s more about seeing why and how all the fake blood gets disbursed.
Like the first version, this one operates in pure guilty pleasure mode from start to finish, which means that when Rémi gets sentimental about Romy — or Hazanavicius about his daughter — it’s not all that credible, even if a closing gag ties that plot together nicely. There’s also a bit of awkwardness in transposing a Japanese film to France, which the director justifies by showing Rémi’s efforts to woo his producers as best as he can, until he makes a crack about Pearl Harbor that unfortunately gets translated.
It’s as if Hazanavicius were trying to address issues of cultural appropriation before he’s even accused of it himself, and it comes off a bit clumsily as well. To be honest, though, Final Cut is really just a zombie movie, which by now is a universal and well-worn genre. If anything, the director could be accused of profiting off someone else’s great idea, though he certainly paid for it — the budget here is way higher than that of One Cut of the Dead — and, as the saying goes, “you steal from the best.” Just as zombies never die, this is a concept that can keep coming back until it’s finally killed off for good.