Indie auteur Jim Jarmusch tries his hand at the zombie genre with The Dead Don’t Die. The result is a mixed bag. It succeeds in some moments and is a colossal failure in other instances. However, from the viewpoint of a metaphysical comedy, The Dead Don’t Die is enjoyable and that is obviously how writer/director Jim Jarmusch intended his film to be looked at.
The opening shot is of a cemetery and the gray tombstones are juxtaposed against the bright green trees, under an overcast sky. It is a foreboding image and leads us to meet the two main protagonists, the police chief of a small town named Centerville, played by Bill Murray and his deputy played by Adam Driver. Both are veterans of Jim Jarmusch films and no doubt signed up for The Dead Don’t Die to have fun and work with a director that they like. The rest of the large cast is predominantly made up of actors who have worked multiple times with Mr. Jarmusch such as Tom Waits, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, and Wu Tang’s Rza. The plot involved the Earth coming off of its axis due to fracking and that somehow causes the dead to rise from the grave and do the usual zombie stuff of lumbering around slowly and eating human flesh.
Jim Jarmusch always has wry humor in his films and The Dead Don’t Die is no exception. Here he really specializes in dry humor, very dry humor, with a tongue in cheek flair and for the most part it works. The Dead Don’t Die is one of the most self-aware movies audiences are likely to see in 2019 and they have the choice to either accept it and go with it where they will probably laugh, or dismiss it and walk out unhappy. It does take a while for the zombies to get going. Jarmusch slowly introduces each character and setting in the town, creating the mood which is intentionally uneven throughout. The Dead Don’t Die is never scary, and never dives into being an all-out farce either. Like a lot of his other movies, it is tough to categorize and that may turn some viewers off.
As stated before, The Dead Don’t Die is a comedy first and foremost and from that stance, audiences will have a better understanding of what they should expect. If they find it to be funny or not, that is another story. Some of the jokes are laugh out loud hilarious, and others fall flat and might result in only crickets chirping. There are some subtle political gags involving cars and hats. Some humor involving the zombies emphasizes our countries reliance on technology, drugs, and consumerism. Jim Jarmusch is no George A. Romero, but in a lot of ways, The Dead Don’t Die felt like his tribute to the late great horror director who gave us Night of the Living Dead (1968) and all of its sequels.
Some audiences may complain that The Dead Don’t Die goes on too long, and that is a valid complaint. The director also fell in love with the theme song by Sturgill Simpson to the point that even characters in the movie get sick of hearing it and throw a copy of the CD out the car window. The movie also throws a Hail Mary pass near the very end with a twist out of nowhere involving Tilda Swinton’s character where the viewers will either accept what they see or reject it and further cement their disdain for the film. The Dead Don’t Die is going to be a divisive movie amongst critics and audiences. We have all seen zombie pictures before and know the rules of the game. Jim Jarmusch is simply playing with the genre as he does with a lot of his movies like the road trip in Stranger Than Paradise (1984), the gangster genre in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000), and more recently vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). If viewers want to experiment with zombies and have a few laughs along the way then The Dead Don’t Die is just the right indie alternative pick from the big summer blockbusters.
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