2019, R, Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch, Focus Features 105 minutes
Between Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, and Anna and the Apocalypse, we’ve had our fair share of zombie themed horror-comedies. But we’ve never seen a film quite like The Dead Don’t Die. Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch brings his own unique, surreal, and deadpan (no pun intended) style to the zombie subgenre. What results is a film that has a great deal of style and fascinating ideas, but sadly lacks the overall vision and direction to bring everything together successfully.
The film opens with small town police officers Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver) responding to a call regarding the town’s local mountain man, aka Hermit Bob (Tom Waits). From there, we hear the titular song “The Dead Don’t Die” by Sturgill Simpson and get an odd fourth wall break, that only occurs one other time in the entire film. We quickly meet the other residents of the town which includes another police officer (Chloe Sevigny), a racist farmer (Steve Buscemi), a nerdy shopkeeper (Caleb Landry Jones), a mechanic (Danny Glover), a strange undertaker (Tilda Swinton), and hipster tourist (Selena Gomez).
The film truly boasts an astounding cast, and each of them brings their own quirks to the bigger picture. There’s also a beautifully dry sense of humor throughout. As when the zombies begin to rise, many characters remain oddly calm, deadpan, and even self-referential. It’s quite clear that Jarmusch flexed his creativity and had quite a lot to say. In addition to the film’s sense of humor is a not so subtle political message, that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. And ultimately, that’s the primary issue with The Dead Don’t Die.
It has genuinely funny and clever moments. At times, it almost feels like this is what a Wes Anderson horror film would look like (given the copious amount of deadpan humor, along with many similar cast members that both directors like to work with). At other times, it goes full Quentin Tarantino as Tilda Swinton gleefully wields a samurai sword to fight off the undead. Ultimately however, none of this really goes anywhere. We see characters and situations built up in the first act that don’t really pay off by the end.
Overall, The Dead Don’t Die is still a fun and entertaining experience. But the sum of its many great parts don’t really amount to any type of whole.