Review: The Dead Don’t Die

WRI/DIR: Jim Jarmusch PRO: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan DOP: Frederick Elmes ED: Alfonso Goncalves. DES: Alex DiGerlando MUS: SQÜRL’ • CAST: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Iggy Pop, Rozy Perez, Tom Waits 

In the town of Centerville, USA, the dead start rising from their graves and feeding on people. An array of eccentric characters must deal with the consequences. These include the police chief (Murray), his understudies (Driver and Sevigny), sword-wielding mortician (Swinton) and angry Hermit Bob (Waits).

Jim Jarmusch returns with this agreeable, if often toothless, zombie satire. The cast are all pleasantly droll and the laid-back atmosphere of the piece is enjoyable. Jarmusch’s satirical targets are, however, both decidedly on-the-nose, yet also under-cooked. There is a clear emphasis on the climate crisis. Polar fracking is said to be the cause of the zombie breakout. However, this is never elaborated on further. Steve Buscemi’s remorseless redneck also acts as something of a Trump surrogate. He even wears a MAGA-style hat. Again though, it’s hard to draw too much depth from any of these allusions, in this case given the scale of the cast of characters and the fairly meagre screen time offered to Buscemi. In keeping with Jarmusch’s post-modern style, the film occasionally veers into breaking-the-fourth wall commentary on itself. Again, like most things in the film, it prompts approving smiles but never turns into anything meaningful.

Jarmusch’s engagement with zombies also feels dated. He gives the impression that he thinks this film’s attempts to draw parallels with zombies and consumerism – the zombies are drawn to things they were when they were alive, such as Iggy Pop’s coffee guzzling zombie – is original, as if Dawn of the Dead and the subsequent forty plus years never happened. One could also question Jarmusch’s decision to have the zombies excrete dust when they are dismembered. Jarmusch said one reason for this was because he didn’t want to make a splatter film. But avoiding the splatter only results in the violence of the film feeling soft and unaffecting, further adding to the anaemic feeling the film gives off in general. 

Jarmusch remains a singular, albeit inconsistent voice in American cinema. This is unmistakably his work and features on array of familiar, talented faces from his other films. It’s good to see Murray back in a lead role again. The likes of Swinton and Waits too always make for pleasant company. Newcomers to the Jarmusch universe such as Landy-Jones and Gomez also equip themselves well. Frederick Elmes’ cinematography is typically excellent. SQÜRL’s score also contributes nicely to the laid-back atmosphere of the piece. 

Enjoyable, but not likely to live long in the memory. 

David Prendeville

129′ 15″
12A (see IFCO for details)

The Dead Don’t Die is released 12th July 2019

The Dead Don’t Die – Official Website

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