The Dead Don’t Die, 2019.
Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Selena Gomez, Carol Kane, Tom Waits, Austin Butler, Luka Sabbat, and Rosal Colon.
In a small peaceful town, zombies suddenly rise to terrorize the town. Now three bespectacled police officers and a strange Scottish morgue expert must band together to defeat the undead.
Immediately after discovering two dead bodies devoured of their insides, one character comes up with the simultaneously logical yet unreasonable answer; zombies. Or as Adam Driver puts it in very deadpan delivery, “ghouls!” Not only is it the kind of intelligence more zombie movies need, but this self-aware approach is to be expected from an auteur like Jim Jarmusch creating a genre piece. It doesn’t take long for The Dead Don’t Die to get weird; characters reference a country song on the radio as the theme song of the movie (the audience hears it in the previous opening credits sequence), idiosyncratic characters come into play, and the dry humor is laid on so dry you would be forgiven for thinking the movie should take place in the desert.
Nevertheless, the film takes place in the small fictional rural town Centerville, where seemingly everyone knows each other and is, for better or worse, forced to interact with one another finding common ground. Or at the very least they must find ways to tolerate Steve Buscemi’s farmer Miller, a racist Trump supporter sporting a “Keep America White Again” cap who doesn’t like his coffee too black. There are also occasional cutaways to a group of children, that necessarily don’t have a story arc or any personality to speak of whatsoever, clearly identified as the true losers of the eventual zombie invasion as its apparently brought on by a number of scientific factors (Earth rotating the wrong way among other inexplicable instances). The kids have to clean up the adults’ mess.
It’s unfortunate that The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t make a big enough mess; it’s understandable to lumber along building dread until revealing the first zombie (and even having characters try to figure out what’s going on, predicting ridiculous things like a pack of wild animals), but Jim Jarmusch can’t help keeping things slowed to a crawl. Notably, it’s only the picture-perfect line delivery from Adam Driver that brings back sparks of life, whether he’s poorly cutting off zombie heads like a terrible baseball hitter or reacting to a Star Wars reference. When he’s on the screen (which is thankfully a lot), his potent mix of jolt energy and deadpan demeanor infuses the movie with humor that basically saves the proceedings by itself.
There is no shortage of characters in this impending zombie apocalypse; Bill Murray plays Adam Driver’s police officer partner, both of which are saddled with Chloe Sevigny whose entire character seems to be the clichés of every frightened woman surrounded by the undead. Caleb Landry Jones is a socially awkward comic book and horror expert nerdy gas station owner who might have just the advice the rest of the town needs to survive (and might even develop a relationship during the hell in a traveling film buff played by Selena Gomez, accompanied by her idiotic friends). Danny Glover is far too old for this shit, but he’s going to go down fighting. And then there are the zombies, who are occasionally played by celebrity cameos and are drawn to things they were addicted to while they were among the living (Xanax, free cable, Chardonnay, are just a few things they mumble out). Brains and human flesh actually seem like to seem like something in their way to what they really want.
Again, just because the above sounds like shit hits the fan with forwarding momentum doesn’t necessarily mean it does. Even with Tilda Swinton playing a funeral home-owning samurai sword wielder walking down the streets cutting up zombies, The Dead Don’t Die is never necessarily exciting (save for a last stand climactic showdown). Jim Jarmusch seems to be more concerned with the usual zombie film social commentary, poking fun of materialistic obsessions and product placement (there’s a recurring joke involving the theme song on a CD that continuously gets passed around). None of it bites hard enough, and the characters are far too many/underdeveloped to make any of the political commentaries stand out. Once again, there are a group of children in this movie that only exist for a thematic purpose; they have no character, and whenever they are on screen the movie suffers for it. Aesthetically, some viewers might be disappointed in the shocking lack of blood. There are still some gruesome images, but in this universe whenever zombies are decapitated, only a dust visual emerges rather than splatters of blood. It’s one way to further the idea that people fixated on physical possessions are dead inside, but also robs the film of a little more joy.
For as funny as The Dead Don’t Die is, that’s also the main problem with the experience; Jim Jarmusch has no restraint with his own style of filmmaking that there is barely a genre feature here. I shudder to imagine what The Dead Don’t Die would look like without Adam Driver. His welcome comedic presence coupled with some admittedly fun moments from the terrific ensemble, random twists, goofy zombie cravings, and offbeat characters are all enough to give us a slight recommendation, but be prepared that it’s more of a Jim Jarmusch film than a zombie one, and he’s not going to meet you halfway.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com