Current Issue #488

Film Review: The Dead Don't Die

Film Review: The Dead Don't Die

Indie auteur Jim Jarmusch crams a horde of stars and deader-than-deadpan humour into an irksomely meta zombie comedy.

While it is fun watching so many culty icons – most of whom have worked with Jim before –lower themselves to such undead nonsense in the first half, this grows tiresome and ultimately becomes as on-the-nose as the zombies.

Strange things are afoot in the small town of Centerville, and all seem to have something to do with ‘polar fracking’, which has thrown the Earth off its axis. How? Why? It doesn’t matter, especially as the characters are dealing with bizarre daylight hours, more wacky omens and portents than several dozen horror movies put together, and eventually, after lots of posing and goofiness, the longtime-coming rising of the dead.

Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray, a Jarmusch regular) doesn’t know what to think and stands around looking bewildered, while Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver from Jim’s Paterson) keeps saying, “This is all gonna end badly”. Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) is in there too, but she doesn’t have much to do but look scared and teary, which is a shame given Chloë’s wild indie-scene reputation.

Another Jarmusch pal, Tilda Swinton, turns up as Zelda Winston (a spoonerism), the new mortician in town and wielding a katana sword, a formidably weird attitude and a Scottish accent. Tilda was featured in Jim’s vampire saga Only Lovers Left Alive and apparently she was the one who suggested he tackle a zombie movie, so she’s probably the one to blame for all of this.

But there are so many other famous faces in there too: Steve Buscemi (wearing a ‘Make America White Again’ cap) is grumpy farmer Frank Miller; Danny Glover is sweet hardware store owner Hank Thompson; Caleb Landry Jones is Bobby Wiggins, who runs the local gas-station-cum-memorabilia store, and his favourite courier Dean is played by RZA; Rosie Perez is seen as a TV host with another spoonerism name (Posie Juarez); and low-budget horror icon Larry Fessenden is hotel proprietor Danny Perkins, who looks pretty grisly even before he’s zombified.

If that’s not enough, Selena Gomez is the leader of a trio of “hipsters from the big city”, and the first two undeaders we see (‘Coffee Zombies’) are portrayed by Sara Driver (Jarmusch’s partner and muse) and, woo-hoo, Iggy Pop. It’s good casting too, because Iggy’s an old colleague and pal of Jim’s and, well, he’s looked like a zombie for years.

Tom Waits’ Hermit Bob watches over the action from the hilltops, serving as a sort of hillbilly Greek Chorus and criticising the characters – and us – for our consumerist greed with monologues that are meant to prove reminiscent of the films of George Romero (especially his original Dawn Of The Dead). George is also reverentially namechecked, as is his home state of Pittsburgh, while Gomez drives the same make of car from the opening scenes of (what else?) ‘Zombie Godfather’ George’s original Night Of The Living Dead.

Amazing? Sort of. Funny? Well, after a while, not really. Indeed, Jarmusch’s plot falls apart into the final act, with relentless ‘Fourth Wall’-busting and the irksome feeling that he doesn’t actually know how to wrap things up. Without a doubt his silliest movie, and a long way from faves like Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train, Night On Earth, Dead Man and Broken Flowers, this might not kill Jim’s career outright (he’s way too cool for that), but it certainly leaves it with some serious head trauma.

The Dead Don’t Die (MA) is in cinemas now

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