The Dead Don't Die Review
An all-star cast assembles to take on the zombie apocalypse in the un-deadest of deadpan comedies.Let’s be real: once you’ve seen one Jim Jarmusch film you’ve kind of seen them all. The trailer for The Dead Don’t Die confirmed this. The cult favourite director’s latest film is another surreal romp through a mystical world – it was uber-cool vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive and the classic Western in Dead Man. This time around he’s dabbling in zombie classics with a healthy dose of satire, film-geek references, low-key comedy and plenty besides. It’s a heady mix of reference points, and the film doesn’t ever quite find a comfortable mix.
The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Centerville – whose rather on-the-nose name alludes to its ‘average town USA’ nature. We’re led through the film by a trio of town cops – Ronnie (Adam Driver), Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) and Cliff, the chief (Bill Murray). They’re joined in town by a motley crew of locals, each of whom is larger than life in classic Jarmusch style. There’s grumpy Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi), friendly Hank (Danny Glover), Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) and town newcomer Zelda (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish funeral home boss who also happens to wield a samurai sword.
Looking for a sarcastic, mildly comic, stereotypical, self-indulgent, celebrity-packed comedy that’s easy on the action but big on impalpable stuff like ‘atmosphere’ and ‘character’? This might be for you
Jarmusch is happy to let these characters sort of amble in and out of frame for the first chunk of the film, which is character-heavy and extremely deadpan (or should that be undead-pan...). Each character seems worthy of their own biopic, and it really is a joy to wander around Centerville getting to know the characters (and watching these masterful actors at work). If you didn’t know the title of the film, after the first moments it would be easy to assume that what would follow was a quirky, slightly off-kilter portrait of small town life. Of course, Jarmusch is a veritable expert of slow cinema, so there’s a pretty long time to wait before the ‘action’ kicks off, filled with lots of lingering glances, comedic pauses and long takes.
However, not all is as it should be in Centerville. Night and day are blending, and before long the dead are hauling themselves up out of their graves. Led by recently deceased town lush Mallory O’Brien (Carole Kane), the undead invade the town, demanding what they most cherished when they were alive – Siri, Wi-Fi etc. This is just one of many callbacks to zombie-guru George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and it’s played off as a satire, or spoof on the genre.
The problem is, it’s been done before, and done very well, in films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. Jarmusch doesn’t really have anything new to say on the brain-eater satire front, and so he relies on his old stand-bys – famous actors acting how they famously do, meta humour, tip-of-the-hat references and scores of in-jokes and knowing allusions.
Luckily for Jarmusch, he’s assembled what might be one of the most likeable duos in cinematic history in Murray and Driver. You can’t fail to be charmed by them. These are two of the most innately funny actors working today, and Jarmusch gives them ample time to play off each other here. This is an incredibly self-indulgent film, packed to the rafters with huge tone and genre swings, along with self-aware meta jokes that come across as varying levels of smug. Some will find it amusing in a chill, clever way. Some will find it infuriating and pointless.
But the thing about the film is, that no matter how messy and smug and self-deprecating and cringeworthy and pointless it seems, it’s still enjoyable and endlessly whimsical. At its cold, undead, ready to be eaten heart, it’s a fun film. And really, any time you’ve got two or more ‘dream dinner party guests’ in one film, there’s always a reason to watch it. Three quarters of the joy of any Jarmusch joint is watching a superbly talented cast just exist on screen, and though it’s so laid-back it’s virtually horizontal with basically no tension or suspense, that’s part of the charm for the director’s fans.
They don’t get much more deadpan than this, which gives the film a very Marmite edge. And even zombies won’t eat Marmite
Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, and certainly don’t come expecting excitement. Looking for a sarcastic, mildly comic, stereotypical, self-indulgent, celebrity-packed comedy that’s easy on the action but big on impalpable stuff like ‘atmosphere’ and ‘character’? This might be for you. If you’re a fan of meta comedy, or knowing humour, this might be the zombie flick you didn’t know you needed.
Looking for something exciting, sincere and cutting edge? Stay clear of this.
The Dead Don’t Die certainly isn’t for everyone, and it variously seems like it’s not quite thought through and then thought out way too much. They don’t get much more deadpan than this, which gives the film a very Marmite edge. And even zombies won’t eat Marmite.
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