June 10, 2019 The Dead Don’t Die (Movie Review)
Some films are indescribable. The Dead Don’t Die, the latest film from veteran Director Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive 2013, Paterson 2016), is one that falls into this category. Set for release in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 14th through Focus Features, in his latest effort, Jarmusch takes on a well-worn Horror trope and pens a strangely-worded love letter to George Romero.
The Dead Don’t Die sees Jarmusch tackling zombies this time around, having already gone after vampires and other such supernatural creatures in previous films. As always, this out-there director attempts to put his own unique spin on an old theme by lining up an all-star cast and playing with the viewer’s expectations. Sadly, even powerhouse actors like Chloë Sevigny (American Psycho 2000, Lizzie 2018), Bill Murray (Caddyshack 1980, Ghostbusters 1984), and Adam Driver (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens 2015, BlacKkKlansman 2018) cannot keep The Dead Don’t Die from shambling.
Taking place in Centerville, a sleepy town where everybody knows everybody and Pittsburgh is considered “the big city,” The Dead Don’t Die centers on Officers Cliff Robertson (Murray), Ronnie Peterson (Driver), and Mindy Morrison (Sevigny) as they discover the Centerville dead are beginning to rise from their graves.
The premise is simple, and by now viewers get the gist of how zombie films shake out, so Jarmusch attempts to tell a refreshing tale by being extremely meta and self-aware. More often than not, these attempts at meta comedy fall flat, but are just barely saved by the actors’ delivery. Driver’s character directly mentions having read the script and knows the film’s theme song. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but those come more out of ridiculousness rather than actual comedy. Despite having actors like Murray and Driver, some of the film’s funniest moments come from Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin 2011, Doctor Strange 2016) as Zelda Winston, Centerville’s enigmatic new Scottish resident/mortician who inexplicably wields a samurai sword. Also landing some killer funny moments are the film’s underused cast of musicians like Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, RZA, and Sturgill Simpson.
One refreshing aspect is The Dead Don’t Die’s fatalistic plot. As Driver’s character repeatedly states, “This is not gonna end well.” And it does not. That is not a spoiler, as that fact is laid bare at the beginning of the film. Even so, that one bit of refreshment does not make up for the film’s multiple meandering plots and plot threads that lead nowhere. The most head-scratching of these is a group of children of color who are confined to a juvenile detention center without explanation, and then they simply disappear from the film. On top of that, Sevigny’s character, despite being a police officer, is a stereotypically emotional woman who vomits at the sight of blood and is the only character who cries.
In his attempt to be avant-garde, Jarmusch often comes off as out-of-touch or even ignorant. If he is trying to play into stereotypes to prove a narrative point, there is no payoff. Tropes like these are tiresome and just plain lazy writing. Perhaps Jarmusch was going for some sort of tribute to Romero with these tropes—as he plants dozens of references to classic Horror flicks and even thanks Romero in the credits—but if so, playing into stereotypes does more of a disservice than anything.
All this in mind, there is no doubt there will be film buffs who delight in dissecting this B-movie with an A-list cast, but your average moviegoer with likely come away with nothing but confusion. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives The Dead Don’t Die 2.5 out of 5 stars.