1h 44mins (length)
11 July 2019 (released)
13 July 2019
Having taken on vampires in 2013's Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch uses his unique style of filmmaking to put a new spin on another horror staple, zombies, in his latest movie The Dead Don't Die.
Set in the one diner town of Centerville, Jarmusch's film introduces us to a variety of its bizarre residents - with a particular focus on two police officers, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) - who are called out to the woods to investigate the theft of some chickens from cantankerous farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi), and the main suspect, the equally irascible forest dweller Hermit Bob (Tom Waits).
Returning back to base after taking a call from their colleague Mindy (Chloe Sevigny), they notice the hours of daylight are out of kilter, a phenomena the government and oil companies claim has nothing to do with intensive 'polar fracking' that may have shifted the Earth off its axis.
It's a situation Ronnie repeatedly says "won't end well" and soon after, the pair are called out to what appears to be a brutal double murder at a diner, possibly an attack by "several wild animals," or as officer Peterson correctly surmises, "zombies" or "ghouls".
The undead perpetrators, played by Iggy Pop and Jarmusch's partner, filmmaker Sara Driver, are of course just the first of waves of zombified former residents ready to rise from the town's graveyard.
The film essentially takes the form of a series of cameos from stars and Jarmusch regulars as Centerville's bizarre residents. There's Tilda Swinton as the Samurai sword-wielding owner of the local funeral home, Danny Glover as a kindly hardware store boss, Caleb Landry Jones as a geeky gas station employee, RZA as a wise delivery man, and Selena Gomez as one of a gang of Ohio hipsters forced to stop at Centerville's motel.
Plus, we drop in on three inmates at a juvenile detention centre (Maya Delmont, Taliyah Whitaker, and Jahi Winston), who often have the smartest takes on the problems hitting Centerville and the world.
Each set of characters gets a stream of comic dialogue that sets them up as quirky Jarmusch creations, before having to face the growing zombie epidemic, and there are plenty of good jokes.
Particularly amusing is the way zombies gravitate towards their interests in life - with the town drunk demanding 'Char-don-nay' and others simply after Wi-Fi or Xanax. Several characters' obsession with Sturgill Simpson's theme song, The Dead Don't Die, including Driver's comically deadpan Officer Peterson, also provides a good running meta-gag.
Meanwhile, seeing Buscemi rant at an absconded herd of cows will always be a delight.
Very much a Jarmusch film then, but perhaps not his best. The tropes and themes of the zombie genre have been discussed and parodied for so long, that it's difficult to see how he brings something genuinely new and interesting to it.
The Dead Don't Die's satirical themes of zombies as a stand-in for the mindlessness of everyday life were dealt with by George A. Romero (who is referenced) decades ago, and Romero's films themselves have spawned their own modern takes, both comedic (Shaun of the Dead) and dramatic (28 Days Later).
With its characters largely avatars for Jarmusch to play with, rather than genuine dramatic creations, it does leave The Dead Don't Die feeling strangely hollow at times - a film that's been made to satisfy its creators' curiosity, rather than to spark the audience's.
It is, therefore, a film that is possibly more for fans of its director's deadpan humour and idiosyncrasies, rather than those expecting a great new entry into zombie lore.
That's not to say that it doesn't lack a certain Jarmuschian charm, but that this fails to get the comedic or dramatic results of his best work, like Broken Flowers or Paterson.