REVIEW: “The Dead Don’t Die”

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From its first announcement I could see hipster filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” running into problems with two distinct audiences. I could see it being far too Jarmusch-like (weird, dry, and off-beat) for many modern day moviegoers. At the same time I figured many Jarmusch aficionados would find it too lightweight and mainstream when compared to the filmmaker’s past works.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Jarmusch and this film has all the ingredients to be one of my favorites of the year. And while there are several things I like about this wacky zombie satire, it never really gets its footing and it’s hard to see it as anything more than Jarmusch dabbling in a new genre. There are several things he seems to be attempting to say, but none of it has any bite and most of it feels shallow and even a bit smug.

The film takes place in the cozy little town of Centerville, population 738. The welcome sign even reads “A Real Nice Place” so what could go wrong? Jarmusch spends a lot of time taking us around to meet the idiosyncratic townsfolk. Few are given any depth and many are simply set up to eventually become zombie fodder. Order is kept by Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murry) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver). The two ride around town revealing the numerous locations we will be seeing again: the diner, the motel, the cemetery, the juvenile detention center, the gas station, and so on.

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A star-studded and totally game cast fill out Jarmusch’s haughty vision of middle America. Tilda Swinton is the Scottish samurai sword wielding undertaker. Steve Buscemi’s Farmer Miller is a Trump-supporting bumpkin. Caleb Landry Jones runs the gas station/geek memorabilia shop. Tom Waits is the shaggy and homeless town hermit. Danny Glover owns the hardware store. Larry Fessenden runs the Moonlight Motel. A few other faces are sprinkled throughout including a hipster threesome led by Selena Gomez who are passing through Centerville at the worst possible time.

So about the zombies. In Jarmusch’s world the zombie apocalypse isn’t spawned from a passing comet or a viral outbreak. Nope, instead polar fracking knocks the earth off its axis causing the day/night cycle to go haywire, animals to disappear, our phones to go out, and eventually the rise of the innard-eating dead. The citizens of Centerville certainly notice the changes, but they’re either too dense or too ensnared in Jarmusch’s deadpan trappings to make much of it. Their dry, puzzled responses make for some of the movie’s funnier moments.

Jarmusch movies are known for their mellow pacing and laconic dialogue as well as their unique ways of embracing human eccentricities. “The Dead Don’t Die” features all of those traits. The difference here is with how the film meanders at times with no discernible purpose. In his previous films Jarmusch was able to maintain a steady connection to his characters even during his most leisurely moments of storytelling. We never have any real connections to any of these characters. And Jarmusch doesn’t seem to be embracing the eccentricities as much as he is just making fun of them.

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That doesn’t mean all of our time spent with these characters is bad. Quite the opposite actually. But it’s mostly due to the performances more than the material. Easily the best scenes are the ones we spend with Driver and Murry. The two have a seamlessly funny chemistry and I found myself laughing without them saying a word. Chloë Sevigny is a great compliment playing Chief Cliff’s junior officer. The three of them together shouldn’t make any community feel safe but they’re plenty good at delivering laughs.

It’s also a hoot watching the supporting cast have fun with their characters regardless of how little depth they may have. Buscemi is able to mine some laughs out of a role that is strictly there for some fashionable but toothless MAGA bashing. Swinton can do ‘weird’ in her sleep and she gets the wackiest character of the bunch. And I really do love seeing Danny Glover popping up in these easy-going, low-key roles. Oh, and Iggy Pop credited as “Coffee Zombie” – magical.

So again, there are things to really enjoy about “The Dead Don’t Die”. When the humor lands well it can be pretty funny and it’s a blast seeing so many familiar faces (By the way, can we all agree that Adam Driver is one of the best and most diverse actors working today?). But sadly the whole thing comes across as aimless right up to its groan-worthy ending. There are several inside jokes and some pasted on commentary about us being the zombies clutching to our materialism and technology. But it has no bite whatsoever. So we’re left with the cast who are enough to save the film but just barely.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3-stars

28 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Dead Don’t Die”

  1. I guess it could be just me but I’m so tired of the whole zombie movie genre be it funny or serious . The classic Night of the Living Dead is amazing and still a haunting viewing and I did like Shaun of the Dead and WWZ but beyond those I’m tapped out . But I’ll probably catch it on a streaming service . As always even with movies not on my radar , your thoughtful reviews are excellent . You need to be on Rotten Tomatoes !

    • Hey I appreciate that man. Apparently I don’t have enough ‘published work’ according to Rotten Tomatoes. Not sure I understand their current metrics but maybe next year.

      I do get what you’re saying though. I like zombie movies but as with many things the industry milks it dry. This one could have been soooo much better. I still gotta a kick out of it but left pretty disappointed.

  2. I’m a big Jim Jarmusch fan as well, and while I would agree this is one of his weaker efforts, The Dead Don’t Die really does seem like the perfect movie for 2019. The humor is certainly broader than Jarmusch’s previous films, but I like how he takes the nihilism of the zombie genre to convey the helplessness and fear of the contemporary world. Plus, anything with Tom Waits gets a thumbs up from me.

    • I really wish I felt that. As I mentioned I didn’t feel this had any bite at all. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t get much out of Waits. Not because of him though. I just didn’t find his material or character angle that funny. Love his wooly look though.

  3. I still want to see this. It’s Jim Jarmusch. A mediocre Jarmusch film is still better than a lot of other films out there. Plus, Iggy Pop as a coffee zombie. That’s a win for me. The fact that he’s still alive and well is even more shocking considering all of the drugs and antics he used to do back then.

  4. A more positive review of this than many I’ve seen. It was enough to make me think twice about seeing it in theaters but as I do really appreciate Jarmusch’s truly weird sensibilities I will definitely see this at home. And it is mostly for Driver, because I agree he’s one of the most exciting actors right now. It began before his pretty cool turn in Force Awakens I’m pretty sure but since then he’s just been in soo many good and interesting movies

  5. I did enjoy this one more. Jim Jarmusch’s pure cynicism resonates terribly well with modern times. Those scenes with Driver and Murray were brilliant too, though I have to agree the plot does meander excessively!

      • TBH I haven’t seen many of his movies, apart from Coffee and Cigarettes about ten times as a friend was obsessed with it. That was a long time ago though. I must admit I didn’t like Paterson, but I need to give it another watch

      • Shall do my man! I’ve still yet to watch Hostiles I think you said it was, I need to check my watchlist. Hell there’s heaps of stuff from this year that I still gotta bloody watch, Sunset, this one, Night Hunter, Anna… god there are so many and I get so distracted when on my PC that I never get to write about em all. Ad Astra, I sat down to write about that days ago but the laptop went flat. I literally only just remembered that cos I’m writing this reply. HAHA! Oh god, I’m not sure if I should try now, its days later. I do remember it pretty well though… I think I saw you did a review on it….

  6. Hehehe. I’m not expecting much at all from Anna, hopefully Besson surprises. Tho I do think that Lucy movie was incredibly overrated, hardly a ‘return to form considering his first three/four movies!! Still havern’t watched Hostiles yet! I’m gonnaput it on right now or I’ll just bloody forget again hehe

      • I’ll give it a whirl. Tho I really need to properly watch Ash is the Whitest Colour (I think thats the title) and same goes with Never Look Away. And Sunset. And… god, so many. And I booked a ticket for A White, White Day at a fesitival in June I think, but was boody sick! I’m stiiiiill waiting for that to get a proper release so I’ll be able to find a copy with subtitles online. Doesn’t feel like the kinda movie that will play at our cinemas or be on Netflix!!

      • I think I watched it some time ago but was half asleep so I had no idea what it was about, I need to rewatch it at some point but I’ve procrastinated too long, there’s literally at least 30 movies from this year on my list to watch!

        Re Ash tho, even tho i only half remember it, I liked a touch of sin more I think. I really enjoyed that one

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