THE DEAD DON’T DIE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sivigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, RZA, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Austin Butler, Selena Gomez, Sara Driver, Jahi Winston, Maya Delmont, Taliyah Whitaker, Larry Fessenden.

Bill Murray, Danny Glover, and Adam Driver in The Dead Don't Die (2019)

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive was an unconventional take on the vampire genre. Similarly, his latest film The Dead Don’t Die is a quirky, typically droll, laid back and offbeat take on the usually gory zombie genre, which seems to be all the rage these days, especially with the success of HBO’s The Walking Dead. While not quite in the same league as the fabulous Shaun Of The Dead or Zombieland, this quirky dead pan comedy/drama is still quite entertaining. Most of the clichés of the genre are played for laughs here.

The film is set in the sleepy small town of Centreville, “a real nice place”, which is about to experience an upheaval with a full-on zombie apocalypse. Local farmers begin to notice that their livestock is going missing. The earth has been knocked off its rotational axis by something called polar fracking, so that the days seem to be longer. There is a creeping sense that something is wrong in the world.

When the dead start rising from their graves and attacking the townsfolk, it falls to sheriff Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his two deputies Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) and Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) to try and protect the town. They are ill equipped to deal with the zombie apocalypse. They also receive some help from Zelda Winston (Jarmusch regular Tilda Swinton), the town’s new samurai sword wielding undertaker with a strange accent.

There are a couple of subplots running throughout as well that introduce a number of other characters, but they ultimately lead nowhere.

Jarmusch takes a slightly unorthodox approach to the genre with some irreverent dialogue that seems a little too self-aware and includes lots of metareferences to films like the classic zombie movie Night Of The Living Dead as well as Jarmusch’s own body of work. Murray, who has previously worked with Jarmusch is a good fit for his dry style, and is at his droll, hang dog and lugubrious best as Robertson, the world-weary and cynical sheriff who is out of his depth when dealing with the undead. There is a good rapport and comic chemistry between Murray and Driver, whose Peterson knows his zombie lore and keeps muttering: “This is not going to end well.” Jarmusch is in a playful mood here and he occasionally breaks the fourth wall, allowing Murray and Driver to speak to the screen and acknowledge that they are part of a movie.

Driver delivered one of his best performances when he previously worked with Jarmusch on the low budget gem Paterson, and he is good here as the straightman to Murray’s droll sheriff. In another meta-joke he even carries around a Star Wars keyring. The film features a great ensemble cast, many of whom have worked with Jarmusch before, that includes Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, rapper RZA, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez as a television news reporter, and regular collaborator Steve Buscemi. Tom Waits plays the enigmatic hermit Bob, whose unique perspective on events offers a critique of our modern consumer driven society and our obsession with social media. But the satire here seems half baked.

The Dead Don’t Die has been atmospherically shot by Jarmusch’s regular collaborator Frederick Elmes (Paterson, Broken Flowers, etc). There is some good gory makeup, courtesy of Lindsay Gelfand (who has done the prosthetic makeup for the forthcoming Joker, etc). Grammy award winning country singer Sturgill Simpson provides the catchy theme song, which itself is the subject of a nice running joke throughout the film. 

While not Jarmusch’s best film, The Dead Don’t Die is more accessible and mainstream than many of the idiosyncratic filmmaker’s quirky offerings.

★★★

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