‘The Dead Don’t Die’ sees director Jim Jarmusch pooling together actors from six previous films for an ensemble zombie horror-comedy; one which certainly puts the dead in dead-pan.
Polar fracking has caused Earth to be knocked from its axis; this in turn leads the dead to rise up. In sleepy Centerville, which has a population of less than eight hundred, the police force headed by Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver) try and stay alive as more and more zombies surge the streets.
This is an extremely dry movie, it’s perhaps one that will be too dry for some tastes. The story from Jarmusch keeps referring to human interference causing the zombie onslaught, it’s through this that the script gets peppered with a clear arrow toward doom, as constantly mentioned by the well-informed Ronnie, seemingly forever saying “this is definitely going to end badly.” You would think that because of this build to a foretold finish, that you’d be drawn into the low-key comedy and undead bite, but only snippets of the film manage to keep you engaged.
It’s an off kilter movie, one that keeps you chuckling or interested in places and then thinking about what to eat for lunch in others. The comedy element is really good in a few places; such as a wink to the ‘Star Wars’ universe with Driver in the scene or the kooky presence of a Scottish Tilda Swinton playing a funeral home director. Further little things elicit humour, like Driver and Murray hacking down the dead in such a blase manner, among others!
A couple of moments aren’t as amusing or as cleverly intended though; they are odd and within the self-referential quips you cannot help but feel it’s too left field even for this strange concept. It isn’t just the comedy that goes too far, an original title track is a believable song with country twang but it becomes overused, I understand that’s the point but it becomes an ear worm stretched to breaking point.
The idea for the story itself doesn’t show up as ever-present and makes the film sort of nothing. There’s a vague sense of consumerism and how we devour without thought coming into play, but it’s a notion which you don’t grasp until the final mutterings of wood-dweller, Hermit Bob played by Tom Waits. Some allusion to this idea can be witnessed as the wave of zombies take over, their past becoming a driving force and as they groan single words citing their former lives, you do gain some simmering of comedy, thanks to seeing reanimated bodies obsessing over WiFi, Snapple or striking model poses.
I couldn’t help but gain a sense that this dry film shares a world with the likes of surreal movies made by Yorgos Lanthimos. Mostly I say this because the cast like Murray, Driver, Caleb Landry Jones and Selena Gomez deliver their lines in a flat, often disinterested way, as the cast do in ‘The Lobster’ or ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’. The neutral tone of their performances works in making a convincing off-balance atmosphere but won’t help the argument that the film is dull and pointless.
‘The Dead Don’t Die’ might not go anywhere and it feels like it takes a while to get to that dead end, enough so that people might wonder why this film is even out there. But it’s within this out there ambiance that Jim Jarmusch’s creation actually manages to do something different with the zombie genre. It’s a bizarre film; one that shifts like a lopsided creature of the undead, between good and bad.
Written by Troy Balmayer
Star Rating – ★★★
Question: What is your favourite Jim Jarmusch movie?
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