Movie Review: ‘THE DEAD DON’T DIE’ should have stayed buried

James C. Clay // Film Critic

THE DEAD DON’T DIE

Rated R, 102 Minutes
Directed by:  Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover

I figured director Jim Jarmusch was above making a zombie movie, but then again he did make one of the best vampire movies in ages with ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE. The director who is known for his languidly paced movies that effortlessly blend zen-like philosophy with comedy. With his latest effort, THE DEAD DON’T DIE he found a massive cast to fill a screen that features many stars including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and Iggy Pop among others. It’s as if Jarmusch made a phone call to all his most famous friends and asked them to come hang out and make a movie that acts as subtext about climate change and the Donald Trump era. Very little works as a comedy, or as a metaphor, but as a creator Jarmusch’s film is knowing in its’ own intentions. 

I figured director Jim Jarmusch was above making a zombie movie, but then again he did make one of the best vampire movies in ages with ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE. The director is known for his thoughtfully-paced films that effortlessly blend zen-like philosophy with comedy, not his penchant for Genre. With his latest effort, THE DEAD DON’T DIE, he found a massive cast featuring stars Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and Iggy Pop among others. It’s as if Jarmusch made a phone call to all his most famous friends and asked them to hang out and make a zombie movie about climate change and the Donald Trump era. Very little works as a comedy, or as a metaphor, but as a creator, Jarmusch keeps the film’s intentions visible.

L_R: Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny and Bill Murray in ‘The Dead Don’t Die.’ Courtesy of Focus Features.

The movie begins and ends with three police officers; even keel Ronnie Petersen (Driver), apathetic Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), and squeamish Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny). This trio is the only lines of defense in the town of Centerville U.S.A. While Jarmusch fans are quite used to his trademark lethargic tone, it can be a bit off-putting for viewers. You get to point where you hope the zombies never show up, as the dynamic of the three actors sustains the whole film, rather than the anticipation of seeing the brain dead slog. There isn’t much for the police to do other than bother the neighborhood man in the woods named Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), stop by the local diner to catch up with Hank (Danny Glover), or to go to the local gas station operated by nerd herder Bob (Caleb Landry Jones).

The film finds success when quirky characters exit and enter the frame. The eclectic cast of characters from the Scottish samurai mortician named Zelda (Swinton), to the redneck dipshit farmer (Steve Buscemi), keep the audience on its toes. Most of Jarmusch’s odd characterizations are so gleefully strange it’s a bummer that the plot had to get in the way of hanging out with these group of weirdos. Jarmusch is in complete control of his characters, but when the plot starts to kick in the control slips away from the filmmaker.

The film hits the skids when it begins the finger-wagging about how we need to put down our phones. As the dead start rising, we learn that polar fracking is to blame for tilting the earth off its axis. The dead are known for things they enjoyed when they were still alive, from one zombie moaning “Chardonnay,” to another groaning for “Bluetooth” or “Wi-Fi.” It gets to a point where a filmmaker is out of touch. While it’s funny to see a zombie craving a glass of booze, it’s another to be outright condescending to some of the most useful technological discoveries in history. The film takes on this strange self-reflexive look inward that never entirely comes to grips with its’ message.

Complete with a titular theme song called THE DEAD DON’T DIE by Sturgill Simpson Jarmusch’s latest was a total misfire and poor use of his signature dry tone. He’s an introspective filmmaker that slyly gets to the point he is making as an artist. With an effortlessly cool bravado, THE DEAD DON’T DIE limps around until finally crawling back six feet under.

Grade: C

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