Jim Jarmusch directed a zombie comedy that got a wide theatrical release. I cannot believe I just wrote that sentence. And with that being said, it is kind of a miracle this film actually exists. Jarmusch has always been an eccentric filmmaker who has crafted some great films. Of which only Broken Flowers achieved moderate commercial success. Armed with Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and a marketing budget could The Dead Don’t Die be this man’s most mainstream film to date? Simple answer, no. So let’s get to the long answer.
“I’m thinking zombies.”
The zombie genre always has been a genre where filmmakers have explored social and political issues. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was a critique of the Vietnam War and contemporary race relations in the United States. His follow-up Dawn of the Dead looked at the rampant rise in consumerism culture. I could go on, but the point is this: You can tell a compelling story while flesh eating ghouls are getting dismembered in creative ways. The Dead Don’t Die takes a page out of this playbook, throws in shades of Shaun of the Dead, while adding that special bit of Jarmusch flare.
After a polar fracking incident tilts the world slightly off its rotational axis the town of Centerville finds itself as ground zero for a zombie apocalypse. Pretty standard stuff. But it takes a pointed look at the environment and typical opinions people hold on the current situation. As the story unfolds we watch as various townspeople react in very different ways. From there we are treated to multi-genre comedy including dry humor, slapstick. And even 4th wall breaking. These two aspects are definitely going to turn off the majority of people who bought a ticket based off the trailer. This is a comedy, but it’ll take a specific audience member for the majority of these jokes to land.
“This is definitely going to end badly.”
With the cast this movie is stacked to the brim with talent. Off the bat frequent Jarmusch collaborator Bill Murray is here having a blast playing a rather indifferent, but accepting town sheriff. Adam Driver brings some fun passivity and self-awareness to the film and has great comedic chemistry with Murray. These two spend the majority of their time together for a large portion of the film and it is a blessing. The duo work well riffing off each other. Now let’s talk about Tilda Swinton.
At this point it’s become a well known joke to assume she is not of this Earth. Whether she’s sleeping in a glass box at the Museum of Modern Art or rocking a shaved head in Marvel comic book film she is a unique performer. Here she is playing a Buddhist, samurai sword wielding, mortician, who rocks her native Scottish accent. If you think this all sounds bonkers believe me it is, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. And what makes it even funnier is how in on the joke the character and film are with this portrayal. From there the entire supporting cast is full of solid veterans (Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Rosie Perez, and Chloe Sevigny). Fresh up and comers (Caleb Landry Jones and Selena Gomez) fill out the rest of the film nicely even if they are occasionally underutilized.
“She’s strange. She’s Scottish.”
The Dead Don’t Die is a weird beautiful beast of a film. We live an era where people decry the fact that the theatrical experience is being dominated by comic book films, sequels, mediocre horror films, and CGI cartoons. It’s refreshing to see something like this slip in during the busiest time of the film season. There are going to be people who will hate this film. Two of whom were in the theatre with me and left grumbling how they wasted their money. At times it does feel like Jarmusch’s reach seems to exceed his grasp, but I have to give him points going as far as he did. I assume in the coming years this will become a beloved cult film finding its fans over time.
Overall Score 3.5/5