'The Dead Don't Die' - Sucking the life out of zombie films

The Dead Don't Die

When hearing that Jim Jarmusch is making a zombie flick called The Dead Don’t Die, it’s a pretty safe bet that this movie is going to be anything but normal.

Jarmusch, who made his directorial debut back in the 1980s, has been failed as an indie-darling filmmaker who’s responsible for bold, yet often frustrating and sometimes pretentious movies such as Stranger Than Paradise, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers and Paterson.

In 2013, Jarmusch dabbled in the horror genre with Only Lovers Left Alive — a film which is about two immortal vampires played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston who are trying to comprehend their place in the universe. It’s super punk-rock, slow and definitely made for a certain demographic (I, myself, don’t care for it).

Now, Jarmusch is going full-fledged into horror as he takes on the zombie genre with The Dead Don’t Die.

Centerville is a small little town in middle America, home to about 700 people (“It’s a great place to live!” says the entrance sign). There’s not really a whole lot of action or drama that goes down there — it’s the type of place where news travels fast and everyone knows everyone.

The Dead Don't Die
credit: YouTube

That’s why it doesn’t take the whole community to find out about the two deaths down at the local diner.

The victim’s bodies are unlike anything that Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Officer Mindy Morrison (Lean on Pete’s Chloë Sevigny) have ever seen before. While their faces and heads are still intact, the rest of their bodies have practically been ripped to shreds.

Cliff and Mindy figure this has to be caused by some kind of wild animal (maybe several wild animals, they repeatedly say), but Ronnie — Ronnie only has one explication for what could have caused this: the undead.

That’s right. Zombies. Ghouls. Flesh-eating monsters. You see, in the world that The Dead Don’t Die creates, the Earth’s rotation has been altered due to serious polar fracking. There have already been some side-effects here and there (side-effects that some, such as the right-winged Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi), are pretty quick to dismiss), but Ronnie now believes things are about to be amped up to an eleven.

He’s right, too, as it’s only one day later when all of those buried inside the Centerville Cemetery rise from their graves and make their grand-reappearance, then forcing Cliff, Mindy and Ronnie to save the entire town — or what’s left of it.

The Dead Don't Die
credit: YouTube

Meanwhile, we’ve got subplots galore as Tilda Swinton is also in here playing a samurai-wielding undertaker who works down at the Ever After Final Home. Caleb Landry Jones and Danny Glover, meanwhile, are two local business owners who have locked themselves inside a hardware store, all while Maya Delmont, Taliyah Whitaker and Jahi Winston play three teens stuck inside a detention center when all of this goes down.

But we’re not done yet, folks! We’ve also got Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat as three out of town “hipsters” (I’m convinced that Jarmusch doesn’t actually know what that word means), as The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Tom Waits is also running around playing an old hermit who lives out in the woods and spies on people.

And if that still wasn’t enough for you, well, don’t worry because we’ve got RZA as an inspiring delivery driver and Iggy Pop as a coffee-driven zombie to boot.

It’s a lot of cast members and it’s a lot of subplots. It’s also what the marketing of The Dead Don’t Die has largely focused on because, I mean, come on? Who wouldn’t want to see a zombie movie with all those recognizable faces? Bill Murray returning to the genre after Zombieland? Adam Driver basically playing the same character he did in Logan Lucky? Tilda Swinton self-referencing all the complaints she got about her being cast in Doctor Strange/Avengers: Endgame? There’s no way that could be bad, right?

Erm, well, I hate to break it to you, but…

I’ll admit that the cast assembled for The Dead Don’t Die is indeed an impressive one and that, for the first half of this movie, I was kind of digging it. There’s some really quirky, Jarmusch-like humor in there that made me laugh (Driver’s “oh, yuck,” line got me), all while it’s building to something you can’t quite figure out.

The Dead Don't Die
credit: YouTube

Like, you can easily tell there’s something off within the story of The Dead Don’t Die. Okay, yes, the dead are rising and that’s weird, but there’s more than that — the characters almost seem aware that they, themselves, are in a movie as there are a couple of fourth-wall breaks here and there. Nobody ever acknowledges it all that much or turns to the camera to explain it, though, so you spend the first 45-minutes or so trying to figure out what is going on, which can be a lot of fun.

Once we get to that second half and you figure out what we were building to, though, The Dead Don’t Die quickly loses a lot of steam. The word I’d use to describe this movie is inconsistent, and it’s constantly trying to do four different things at once without ever really doing any of them very well.

Sometimes, it wants to be a traditional horror movie. There’s plenty of George Romero references scattered throughout this thing, as this is clearly paying some homage to both Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead. Thing is, that’s all there really is to these scenes — The Dead Don’t Die stops short of homages to other, better horror movies that were already doing this 20, 30 years ago. It almost feels like Jarmusch wanted to make a zombie movie without ever watching a zombie movie first, meaning he didn’t realize that all of these ideas he had have already been done.

Other times, it wasn’t to be a grand Jarmusch comedy, which is probably the weakest part of the film. Not only does it feel completely different than anything else in The Dead Don’t Die, but there comes a point when aliens show up on-screen while Adam Driver and Bill Murray are having an argument about what their script says they should do next, and I just tune out. If you want to make that movie, fine — but at least stick with that tone from beginning to end. Don’t set us up for one thing and then fall back on these off-color jokes that really aren’t that clever or funny to begin with.

The Dead Don't Die
credit: YouTube

Then, still, there are moments when it does want to be this sharp satire. There’s noble intent there, for sure, but it’s all pretty surface level stuff that, again, has been explored deeper in other horror films like Us (they’re about different things, obviously, but they both still use horror and comedy to make some kind of political point — and Us does it a whole hell of a lot better).

In the end, The Dead Don’t Die is just kind of a drag to get through. There wasn’t a moment when I hated myself while watching it — it goes pretty fast for being 1 hour and 44 minutes long. It just feels like a bunch of impartial ideas that were all crammed together in one movie (the story about the detention center kids literally doesn’t matter in the slightest), all while lacking any wit or follow-through.

Let’s see if Zombieland: Double Tap, which is allegedly still coming out later this year, can do this genre any better.

Watch the trailer for The Dead Don’t Die here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the film!

'The Dead Don't Die' - Sucking the life out of zombie films
  • 'The Dead Don't Die' - Sucking the life out of zombie films
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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