11th Jul2019

‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, Luka Sabbat, Rosie Perez, Eszter Balint, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Larry Fessenden, Tom Waits | Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch


Jim Jarmusch brings his signature deadpan style to this ensemble horror comedy, which attempts to do for zombies what the idiosyncratic writer-director did for vampires in 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Unfortunately, despite a promising first act, The Dead Don’t Die quickly runs out of ideas and the end result is disappointing.

Jarmusch regulars Bill Murray and Adam Driver play Cliff and Ronnie, two laid-back cops in smalltown Centreville who suddenly have to deal with the dead rising from the grave and eating the locals, thanks to a zombie apocalypse that may or may not have anything to do with the fact that “polar fracking” has knocked the planet off its axis.

Gathering up their fellow cop Mindy (Chloe Sevigny), the pair are forced to defend themselves as best they can, with Ronnie advising them both to “kill the head”. Meanwhile, bewildered Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones) holes himself up at his petrol-station-slash-comic-shop with kindly Hank (Danny Glover), reactionary Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) finds his worst nightmares coming true and new-in-town Scottish mortician Zelda (Tilda Swinton) proves a dab hand at zombie killing, thanks to her winning way with a samurai sword.

The first act of The Dead Don’t Die bodes extremely well. Jarmusch takes his time to establish the people of Centreville and we look forward to spending time with these characters as they fend off the imminent zombie uprising. However, as the action progresses, it becomes clear that the film is more or less devoid of ideas and the few jokes it has quickly wear thin.

There are a small handful of exceptions. The film’s best running gag involves each zombie being able to say a single word, indicating whatever was most important to them at their time of death. Examples include, “Coffee!” (a perfectly cast Iggy Pop in a fun cameo), “Wifi!” (teenagers, though hipsters would have been funnier), “Snapple!” (teenagers again) and, best of all, “Chardonnay!” (Carol Kane in a cameo that earns the film an extra half star on her line delivery alone).

However, for every joke that works (and there aren’t many), there are several that fall embarrassingly flat. The film’s worst decision is to indulge in some utterly pointless meta-comedy, whereby Driver’s character is continually unsurprised by developments because he’s read the script and knows that things aren’t going to end well (a line he repeats at least four times). That might have worked if it served some sort of purpose in the story, but it doesn’t, so it just comes across as irritating and smug.

Similarly, if Jarmusch has any points to make about society in general (zombies are nothing if not a handy metaphor for society’s ills, after all), then they’re half-hearted at best and don’t extend far beyond, ‘Hey, these days people spend all their time looking at their phones’. The closest he comes to something interesting in that regard is to have the locked up kids in a detention centre be the smartest characters in the film, but the script abandons that idea before it produces anything worthwhile.

The casting does a lot of the work and it’s briefly amusing to watch Murray and Driver trying to out-deadpan each other, but for every decent cameo appearance (Iggy Pop is probably the stand-out), there’s someone else who’s poorly used, particularly the likes of RZA, Selena Gomez and even Caleb Landry Jones, considering what he’s capable of in the creepy and weird department.

Despite a handful of good moments and some likeable performances, The Dead Don’t Die isn’t funny enough to work as a comedy and it doesn’t do enough fun zombie stuff to entertain as a horror. Basically, it needed more brains, both in front of and behind the camera.

**½  2.5/5

The Dead Don’t Die is on limited release across the UK from tomorrow, July 12th.


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