The Dead Don't Die - 2019
Director(s): Jim Jarmusch
Writer(s): Jim Jarmusch
Cinematography by: Frederick Elmes
Editor(s): Affonso Gonçalves
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Rosie Perez, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez
Jim Jarmusch is a name that could mean two things depending on who says the name; it either means unique or pretentious. Jarmusch has never strived to be what many consider mainstream, and when looking at his career you cannot point to a single "box office success" - yet he continues to be a loud voice inside the industry pushing forward small independent films with big messages to critical success. I, for the most part, love his movies, and think he is was on a hot streak with his last five films, especially 2016's Paterson. So, when I heard that his next film was a zombie comedy starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Adam Driver among a stellar cast I was beyond excited. Finally getting to watch The Dead Don't Die, I wouldn't go as far as to call it pretentious - but it certainly was not good.
The story takes place in the small rural town of Centerville. We follow police officers Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Driver) as they start their usual rounds around town, slowly noticing that things aren't as ordinary. They see on the news reports that the Earth is off its rotation due to polar fracking. The sun is not going down at its regular hours, animals are disappearing, and dead ravaged bodies are appearing in their quiet town. Police officer Peterson has a simple answer to all anomalies, GHOULS! ZOMBIES! Now the townsfolk must band together and fight off the army of the dead.
I was entirely on board during the first act of the film - as we are introduced to all the characters, some better than others, and the quirky town they reside. My favorites being Driver and Swinton as they inhabit perfectly the deadpan tone Jarmusch was going for and their delivery was flat out hilarious. Murray does his best, but his character goes by the wayside once the film starts to break the fourth wall and he doesn't go anywhere (along with the story). And I think that is the main issue I have with this film, the tone and the lackluster conclusion to the story. The rest of the cast did not strive under this tone as Driver and Swinton did, and they felt out of place and looking for direction from the person standing next to them, never receiving a lifeline.
As for the story, I was disappointed that it didn't bring anything new to the zombie genre and using this fear or monster to comment on our societal situation. The late great George A. Romero used this genre to commentate on racial tension of the times and later placed his monster inside a mall commentating on our materialistic obsessed society. Essentially connecting the dots for the audience between our addiction to material things and the mindless obsession of the zombies and eating human flesh. Jarmusch does the same through making the zombies gravitate towards the things they did when alive but goes a step further and has a voice-over point-blank saying they were zombies when they were alive as if it was not clear enough that he was rehashing what Romero did decades ago.
The Dead Don't Die is a deadpan zombie comedy that strives in the first act because the tone and the jokes feel fresh - but by the time the third act rolls around, and we are still hearing and watching the same tricks over and over one grows bored by the experience. The direction is not "bad," it is Jarmusch still, and most of the cast is up for the challenge, but ultimately, they are let down by the script and the rehashed messages from the genre. Wait for it to hit a streaming service.
The Dead Don’t Die is a Streamer!
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