The Dead Don’t Die
by Toby Woollaston
It’s hardly surprising that Jim Jarmusch has finally made a zombie flick. It is a sub-genre that many filmmakers have dabbled in and Jarmusch is certainly not shy of turning his pensively paced films into genre movies (eg. Dead Man as a Western). Certainly, this isn’t his first film about the undead. Notably, he sent two love-struck vampires, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, into a poetic haze in Only Lovers Left Alive. But where that film wallowed in its dreamy melancholic fervour, The Dead Don’t Die is a different beast, opting to reside in the comical and schlocky spirit of yesteryear’s zombie flicks. It’s kooky, mildly amusing … and unfortunately, a complete misfire.
Hosting a zombie hoard of Jarmusch regulars, this film’s rotting belly is bursting with talent. Police officers Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny are the mainstays at the sleepy town of Centerville, while Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi and others (too many to name) fill out the bit parts. It appears that Jarmusch gathered his regulars and asked them what their most typecast role might be—and boom, that’s your role. Swinton, for example, occupies the etherial witch-like samurai-sword wielding mortician (Doctor Strange, Suspiria, etc.), while Buscemi is yet another cap-wearing wise-cracking redneck (Fargo, Lean on Pete, etc.). So purposeful are the archetypes, it leaves little left to be interested in. I guess that might be Jarmusch’s point, as he painstakingly paints each character with a one-dimensional brush to highlight our insatiable appetite for cookie-cutter characterisation.
But because of this, I found myself caring less and less about the fate of anyone in the small town of Centerville. The fourth wall breaking and events that “go off script” smacked of desperation to solicit my attention. At times it did feel like a deeper subtext might’ve been at play beyond riffing on the usual zombies-equal-consumerism metaphor. When Adam Driver says “This isn’t gonna end well”, I think I know what he meant.
I love Jarmusch’s films, and I will be first in line at his next one. But this zom-com represents Jarmusch’s first genuine dud. The Dead Don’t Die is life Jim, but not as we know it.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.