The Dead Don’t Die, 2019.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Caleb Landry Jones, Tilda Swinton, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, Carol Kane, RZA, Selena Gomez.
The Centerville Police Department has to tackle their own undead residents once the dead start rising from their graves.
It’s worth knowing from the beginning, The Dead Don’t Die is not your usual zombie apocalypse. Thanks to Jim Jarmusch’s signature character focused style, this forgoes the usual horror stereotypes to deliver something a little more muted than some audiences might be expecting. While it’s obviously got some gruesome moments, this is definitely an absurdist comedy with a horror tinge. The idiosyncratic town and it’s inhabitants are so blatantly odd that their overtly strange behaviour makes up most of the funniest gags. If the dead came out of the ground instead of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks, it might look something like this.
The repetitive comedy sprinkled throughout the film is genuinely quite entertaining from the get-go, but by the third act it becomes so overused that it loses its charm. Although a stand-out scene where the three officers played by Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny each take a look at a gruesome crime scene is guaranteed to draw out a laugh. It can get tiresome at times when it seems like the plot flounders once the dead have risen. It’s surprising that the most entertaining parts of the film are before the zombies descend on the town, because once they do – the film shuffles along at the same speed as the undead in a disappointingly drawn out final act.
Luckily, the main cast are brilliant in delivering their deadpan lines that consistently hit the spot. Adam Driver is particularly great in doing so, and seeing his broad frame sitting in a tiny Smart Car will never not be a funny visual. His chemistry with Bill Murray works a treat and aside from Tilda Swinton’s scenes, it’s hard not to wish for the pair to return to keep driving the film forward. Appearances from Selena Gomez and Austin Butler feel unnecessary aside from the sudden realisation when they’re introduced. While the obvious cameo from Iggy Pop is outstanding as a coffee obsessed zombie (relatable), the Gomez cameo has nothing of substance to add.
The most satisfying part of the film is undoubtedly Tilda Swinton, who’s at her Tilda Swintest the entire time. Is her mysterious Scottish, sword-wielding undertaker the strangest role she’s ever portrayed? Well, it’s a definite contender. She only becomes more intriguing as the film lumbers on towards it’s polarising finale. There’s some very on-the-nose commentary scattered across the 103 minute run-time, whether that’s Steve Buscemi’s Trumpian racist farmer, or the not so subtle imagery criticising consumerism, capitalism and pollution. But for a zombie flick, this isn’t exactly new territory is it? George Romero masterfully conveyed all of that in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, while Danny Boyle touched on it with a 21st century twist in 28 Days Later… That’s not to say Jarmusch’s criticisms aren’t relevant, as mentioned, Buscemi’s instantly recognisable red hat definitely has a thing or two to say about a particular demographic.
While the ending will ultimately divide audiences (and critics for that matter), it’s worth stating that if this were any other film, it would be praised for it’s prolonged look at middle America and the Lynchian idiosyncrasies that make up Centerville. Jarmusch is obviously focused on exploring this charmingly eclectic group of individuals as an excuse to discuss some of his socio-political opinions, all while framed against a zombie apocalypse rather than creating a smart, stylised horror. Usually, this would be enough to send audiences in a frenzy, just look at the reception to Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, for example.
But thanks to the truly bizarre turn that the finale decides to throw itself into, it’ll be difficult for some to digest what The Dead Don’t Die has to say alongside it’s comedic tone when the rug is pulled out from underneath at the last second. The film has some uniquely brilliant character moments, but Jarmusch’s choices in the final act are disappointing – even if he should be commended for being as bold with them in the first place. For audiences looking for a zombie movie with something truly inspired to say, it might be best look elsewhere. But if you love an unexpected turn or just want to watch something truly odd – then this won’t disappoint.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★