The Dead Don't Die: A Deadpan Satire On The Over Saturation Of The Undead
Writer/director Jim Jarmusch has taken on the western (Dead Man), the samurai film (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai), the assassin film (The Limits of Control), the vampire film (Only Lovers Left Alive), and now sets his sights on the zombie genre with his latest, The Dead Don’t Die. With a phenomenal cast and self-aware wit, Jarmusch delivers a slow-burning satire that seeks to gnash its teeth into the innards of zombie over saturation.
In a peaceful, small town, zombies suddenly rise from their graves, terrorizing the citizens. Three bespectacled police officers (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny) and a strange Scottish mortician (Tilda Swinton) with a love for drag makeup and sword fighting must band together to try and stay alive. The road to survival, however, may be a dead end.
Strange things are brewing in Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die that cause Adam Driver’s Officer Ronald "Ronnie" Peterson to have “a bad feeling”; animals are going missing, police radios aren’t working properly, clocks and watches have stopped, it’s not getting dark at the appropriate hour, the moon has taken on an eerie electric purple aura, oh… and the dead have risen up from beyond the grave!
It’s all stuff we’ve seen before (for the most part), and Jarmusch is absolutely aware, going intentionally out of the way to provide (what some will consider to be) an interesting slant on the zombie apocalypse: one that charmingly stumbles and lurches like the genre’s undead namesake, winking at the audience every step of the way. Jarmusch lovingly deconstructs the genre while simultaneously nodding to its over saturation, balling the whole package up into one cheeky joke. It’s not brain dead, though many will claim it to be; its slow-burn quality, meandering pace, deadpan humor, and sluggish, low-energy performances are going to rub a lot of moviegoers the wrong way — especially if they’re diehard zombie fanatics; however, I’d posit that it sleepwalks with a purpose.
The Dead Don’t Die uses the zombie as a blueprint for its form and presentation. It moves slow and sluggish and buries its brains in a lot of lowbrow stupidity (which is mostly effective). It knows how “hip” the zombie has become, and in it’s own “hip” kinda way it tries to put the tombstone on the genre. To a large degree, Jarmusch’s take on zombies is the perfect foil for zombie films, which are so over saturated nowadays that they’ve pretty much lost their allure entirely. He bogs down the viewer with frivolous expositional minutiae, delaying or outright rejecting typical thrills and kills along the way as a lighthearted middle finger to the zombie fans who seem to want more and more of the same recycled crap.
Jarmusch gives them what they want: a recycled zombie films that seeks to regurgitate the least interesting aspects of a zombie film in its own interesting and entertaining kinda way. Whether or not the film and its intent is successful will vary from person to person, but based off the film’s apparent goal, it finds a large amount of success within its premise. The cast finds really great ways of drawing laughs out of the material with body language and delivery. Murray and Driver in particular share a wonderfully wry chemistry that is a blast to sit with. As with most comedies, everything comes down to timing, and the cast finds the right meter to delivery the deadpan and slyly hip zingers, which is further tightened by Affonso Gonçalves’ editing.
It does begin to lose some appeal as it slumps closer and closer to it’s conclusion, but it’s got some genuine wtt-type twists as well. The ending, in particular, which explains the zombie metaphor directly to the audience (who is likely already well aware of its meaning), appears to be a major a dropped ball at first — that is the normal gut response — but considering how self-aware it is, and that Adam Driver keeps saying, “this is going to end badly,” it’s not so much “bad” as it is a part of the whole joke.
There are also a few missed opportunities (particularly with Steve Buscemi’s Trump-supporting “Make America White Again” character), but it gets a lot of things right and has some pretty great moments. It’s humor won’t cast a spell on everyone, but those that can rock with it’s mocking vibe will be rewarded with a fun, offbeat, surprisingly touching zom-com.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of Jarmusch or dry and offbeat comedies, give this a watch. If you’re a zombie fan, this will likely grind your gears.
Rating: 3.5 zombies spurting dust outta 5.
What do you think? Did the film’s self-awareness work for you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!