dir. Michel Hazanavicius
There’s a myth that remakes can never work. Horror in particular has a rich history of old stories being injected with fresh blood, emerging from tele-pods in new forms such as David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) or John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). A sticking point however is when the sole purpose of re-interpreting a narrative isn’t to update the ideas or remix it with interesting new inflections, but simply to change the language.
Typically this happens to benefit English-speaking audiences, and again horror has a ton of examples; the J-horror sub-genre in particular has a raft of Americanised re-imaginings from The Ring (2002) to The Grudge (2004), porting the action from East to West to try and increase the accessibility to the material and – let’s be honest – milk that sweet cash cow. Whilst this brand of remake may well be successful in its own way an honest question remains: in an age of subtitles and English-dubs, why do it at all? World-cinema is already accessible to anyone who wants to take the journey, so does the transliteration of foreign films not at best reek of homogenisation, and at worst cultural appropriation?
It is into this difficult second category of remake that Michel Hazanavicius’ new film Coupez! finds itself. Straddling the uneasy territory between being both remake and sequel to Shin’ichirô Ueda’s 2017 cult smash One Cut of The Dead, it occupies a liminal space which is sometimes shot-for-shot rehash and at others wry meta-wink to the insanity of such an undertaking.
As with Ueda’s original the film follows the shooting of a zombie movie which is interrupted by real ghouls, opening with an extended single take that’s filled with slapstick, awkward comedy and bad effects. Assuming one doesn’t know the twist suffice to say the film then changes gears, opening up as a love letter to the ludicrousness of indie film-making.
But here’s the thing: Hazanavicius film, for the most part, so closely resembles the original it has very little to say that’s new. Recalling the pointlessness of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998) it struggles to justify its own existence. Given the strength of the source material there will always be a baseline level of quality but it perpetually suffers by comparison, making one wish we were simply rewatching the original instead.
What minor changes have been made tend to be the best parts – including cringe-com jokes about crossed cultural-wires between the Japanese production company who are bank-rolling the remake and the Francophone crew. But these are such a small slice of what is on screen it all feels rather dull: like someone repeating a joke which landed first time, only to wonder why it’s no longer eliciting laughs.
Hazanavicius is a gifted – indeed, Oscar-winning – director but, like Van Sant before him, he would be better served carving out his own work rather than hewing so closely to other people’s masterpieces.
© Tim Coleman