“This is all going to end badly.”
In Jim Jarmusch’s star-studded The Dead Don’t Die, a grim and at times dry horror-comedy, Adam Driver, Bill Murray, and Chloé Sevigny play small-town police officers who must navigate themselves and their town through the rigors of a zombie apocalypse. There is very little ambiguity concerning what is causing the epidemic as early scenes show a massive increase in “polar fracking, “ a practice that has resulted in a definite shift in the Earth’s rotational pattern. The result? The sun is staying out long past its bedtime, there isn’t a phone signal to be had, and the dead are rising up from their graves.
Though nothing revolutionary or even unordinary exists here, The Dead Don’t Die effectively brings Jarmusch’s style and tone to the world of zombies, possibly also creating a subgenre of his own in the process. The dialogue, painfully drawn out at times, keeps the film at bay, refusing to allow an even pace as it metaphorically embodies the small town living that is sure to encompass all those who call it home.
As a result, it should come as no surprise that these zombies don’t move with a quick pace. Never one to be rushed, Jarmusch channels George A. Romero with his slow-shuffling zombie swarms who possess a surprisingly quiet demeanor as they sneak up on the unexpected. The audience is often in on the chase as we watch them close in, another nod to its predecessors.
Joining our trio of cops are a handful of prior Jarmusch collaborators. Tom Waits plays a heavily bearded hermit who never appears to be threatened by the town’s new inhibitors. Iggy Pop is a zombie with a prominent coffee addiction. Tilda Swinton is late to the party but a glowing second act addition as a mortuary cosmetologist with a harsh Scottish accent. Her entrance adds a new layer of mystery to the film, and her awkwardness works well for the story.
As the film progresses and we work our way through the predetermined narrative, it’s hard not to overlook the fact that very little happens. As can be the case, we get minimal character development, and a good number of fourth-wall breaks that are humorous at first but wear you down over time. It’s a resounding quality that carries too much weight in the film as the jokes and situational humor work within the context of a few particular scenes but fail to have a lasting impact on the larger narrative.
It is mainly this that works against Jarmusch as he refuses to venture outside the box and come to some sort of creative compromise. This all coming from an admirer of the infamous director The Dead Don’t Die is fine in context, but ultimately lacks the depth and character arcs to make it anything revolutionary. Though the film allows for an undoubtedly intense drinking game, those who know the director’s talents and abilities will be sharply disappointed. This film could and should have been much better.