So here’s the thing… if you enjoy the occasional zombie apocalypse comedy, I promise this ain’t it, chief. Some folks will really enjoy the schlocky B-horror schtick, but overall, The Dead Don’t Die is a movie completely marching to the beat of its own tune and not in the Anna and the Apocalypse way you might want.
Without seeing a Jim Jarmusch film before this one, I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps if I had, I would have known better. While I really dig the setting, the route he takes within it is cynical hogwash. The MANY cringy fourth wall breaks were enough to make me roll my eyes into another dimension. The jokes start out funny, but get dragged out to such an extent of beating an “undead” horse. I actually laughed out of embarrassment at one point. If this was something he actually wanted to be good, I could see this section being half, or maybe even full. So much time is wasted on introducing pointless character tropes and making sure we comprehend that the characters know they’re in a film, rather than it focusing on being a film. Without sustainable humor, an onslaught of dead pans doesn't make it a comedy. The joke is the film itself- and Jarmusch is laughing at us. It feels pretentious while intentionally diverting at every corner in a way that scoffs at the entire zombie genre. With George Romero references at every left turn, I want to believe there’s some adoration at the forefront. Seemingly a nod to the Dawn Of The Dead zombies that gravitate towards the activities they liked when they were alive, Jarmursch's zombies go after tangible things they obsessed over like coffee and cell phones.
Its a film that hinges on political and social commentary. So much so that The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t work as a movie. Jarmusch isn’t making a movie, he’s making a statement. It’s an abuse of the medium, and the audience suffers for it. Here's an example: Happy Feet is a commentary on global warming, but it’s also a story about dancing penguins. The Dead Don't Die is a commentary on race, consumerism, and the environment, but it is also *nothing.* There's not enough of a story to sustain the director's big ideas. It purposely goes stale early on. One might assume its confused, but the film knows exactly what it is and it truly does not care.
The world BZ (before zombies) is messy and not completely thought out, but interesting enough that I wish we got to explore it a little more. The pacing of the film is slow, as if in real time, which I was totally okay with. I don’t think I could say the same for the guy next to me who was snoring by the second act, but to each their own.
A chain of strange events occur in a small town called “Centerville” including a slightly life threatening issue; zombies. Whether its by polar fracking or supernatural forces is unsure, but something has caused the animals to run away and the undead to rise from the grave. With no help from Mindy, Ronnie, and Chief Cliff, the only police officers in town, the citizens are in deep shit. With a wacky new funeral director, a handy tool shop owner, a gas station clerk, a right wing racist, three juvenile jail birds, and some teenagers passing through town, you’d think we would have ourselves an army of tropes to fight these zombies. The way everyone is introduced early on made me think they would all come together in the end ala Love Actually. Sadly, this isn’t even close to what happens. The three juveniles are followed, but then literally forgotten about by the end. It feels like the beginning of an anthology. We cut back and forth to see slices of these characters that barely interact at all. It feels like a waste of a stellar ensemble cast, and leaves us confused as to who the hero is. What spilled this plot for me was how mundane it becomes, tumbling miserably into the underwhelming final act.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The Dead Don’t Die may be a waste of an ensemble cast, but it has it’s benefits. Adam Driver plays Officer Ronnie who is quiet but stands out of the trio and seems to know something the other two cops don't. Bill Murray doesn’t seem to get very many lines as Cliff. He’s fine, just nothing extraordinary. People laughed at just about anything he said, so I guess you still can’t go wrong with him. Ronnie and Cliff's relationship is used as the catalyst for the never ending fourth wall jokes. Chloe Sevigny plays shy and sweet Officer Mindy, who I relate to on a deep personal level. Chloe has always been a versatile actress and I like her in almost anything she’s in.
Other notable cast includes Danny Glover as the tool shop owner, Tilda Swinton as the suspicious funeral director, Steve Buscemi as the MAGA hatter, Selena Gomez as the Clevelander hipster, and so many more. The acting was the stronghold of this movie for me. I really liked everyone in this world despite what the story does with them.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score, performed and produced by Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL, is a mix of synth and guitar swells to get that eerie hollow sound. It works well with the setting. I appreciate the director’s musical talent in perfecting the music he envisioned for the film. The stand alone soundtrack which shares the title of the film is a song written and performed by the Americana roots singer Sturgill Simpson. It’s not a bad song, but it’s only purpose is to set up the same running joke five times throughout the story.
The production design and the color grading give the setting exactly the type of coolness a movie like this should have. It feels like your run of the mill Midwestern motel town, so to me it feels homey.
My favorite part about the SFX is the zombies bursting into dust instead of bleeding out, making everything a lot less gory than what I’m used to. This detail is about the only unique thing about this movie. The most impressive makeup is Iggy Pop as a zombie- oh wait, that just how he looks...never mind.
I enjoyed certain aspects of this film, but not really as a whole. I was hoping it would bring something new to the zombie table. There is a passive aggressive force driving this that makes me feel dumb for even wanting to see it. People are going to watch this thinking they’re walking into a film in the vein of Zombieland, when really it was a film that was made in vain. My hope for this review is to save you 10-18 bucks (depending on which part of the USA you live in). If you’re interested in seeing this, I’d recommend watching it at home. Hell, make it a drinking game with your friends and take shots every time a character mentions Sturgill Simpson.