Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny
Written by Jim Jarmusch
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
The thought running through my head as I watched The Dead Don’t Die was, strangely enough, a joke from South Park. The Broflovski’s had moved to San Francisco and Kyle’s father, Gerald, became obsessed with the smell of his own farts. Jarmusch’s zomedy is pretentious and haughty, occasionally funny, but poorly paced, and it almost offensively acts like its audience hasn’t seen a zombie movie before. It is unbalanced and never brings any of its many threads to a satisfying conclusion.
Boasting “The greatest zombie cast ever disassembled”, it’s a shame that The Dead Don’t Die‘s cast doesn’t rise to the occasion. Bill Murray snores his way through the entire film while Tom Waits isn’t given any room to be his hypnotically fascinating self. Chloë Sevigny and Adam Driver are pleasant enough but their pan-faced delivery throughout becomes tiresome. Even Tilda Swinton’s “Zelda Winston”, a Scottish mortician obsessed with martial arts and katanas, loses her charm as the quirkiness feels progressively more out of place.
Much like Night of the Living Dead’s flimsy explanation for the zombie apocalypse (the satellite exploding in the atmosphere), The Dead Don’t Die has a similar moment of exposition where news reports explain how polar fracking completely changed the axis of the Earth. A commentary on climate change and generational neglect of the planet, the metaphor doesn’t fully land.
Nothing is added to the zombie genre with The Dead Don’t Die. While it pays subtle homage to NOTLD, it acts like it invented the humor of something like Shaun of the Dead at the same time as the social commentary of Dawn of the Dead when both films did it well before and far better. Fourth wall breaks and zombies that bleed black dust just don’t feel interesting enough.
And yet, there are elements to enjoy. Buscemi’s racist-but-not-racist farmer who wears a red hat emblazoned with “Keep America White Again” is friendly with Danny Glover, despite the tension. The setting of Centerville is quintessential “Small Town USA”, where the population of 723 all know each other’s names and there’s no such thing as “personal business”. Horror icon Larry Fessenden frets over his missing cats while licking the spoon he used to empty their food tins. For some, this may sound like a surreal nightmare but Jarmusch manages to capture them in a delightful way, embracing the absurdity of it all.
Ultimately, The Dead Don’t Die never amounts to anything more than sporadically entertaining drudgery that shuffles along at the same pace as the zombies who walk the streets of Centerville. It wants to be more clever than it actually is, resulting in a movie that keeps viewers at an arms-length distance instead of pulling them in. Y’know, as zombies are wont to do.
The Dead Don’t Die is boring, uneven, and elicits more snoozes than guffaws. There are far better zomedies out there but that doesn’t mean Jarmusch’s latest is without merit. If only the scale of “enjoyable” vs “meandering” was more evenly balanced.