Since Jim Jarmusch first announced his zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die, almost all internet based takes on the zombie sub-genre have turned to “If Jarmusch can’t reinvigorate zombies, no one can”. Looks like the undead are, indeed, dead. Even if they do, as big Jim states, refuse to die.
In the small town of Centerville, local cops Cliff Robertson, Ronnie Peterson and Mindy Morrison (Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny) find themselves hip-deep in the undead. The earth has been knocked off its axis and strange energies have woken the previously expired. As the tiny town is overrun, cops and regular folk alike need to find a way to survive as the horde descend on Centerville, and the rest of the world.
The problem with the zombie sub-genre as a whole, is that it has nothing new to say. There have been hundreds of varying quality films in the last few years and as a whole, at best, they are all forgettable. At very worst, they are boring with very little in the way of redeeming features. Sadly, Director Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, Ghost Dog) falls far closer to flat out boring than an ensemble like this should ever be.
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Jarmusch even struggles with his excuse behind the outbreak. Always one to have something to say, the man behind the camera seems to have crowbarred in the reasoning for the sudden uprising of the dead just to say he did. Fracking in the polar ice caps has knocked the planet off of its axis and caused a surge of energy that has woken up those already dead and buried. It is a decent idea, with half a good message behind it, poorly realised, just so it can be said that the motivation was there to try and make a point.
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The opportunity to say something meaningful isn’t the only thing lost here though. The Dead Don’t Die wastes its cast, too. It is almost like Jim Jarmusch got all of his friends together, got them to commit to a zombie comedy, and quickly thought “Holy hell, I need to actually write this thing”. With a beautiful IMDB cast list, it is almost worth the price of admission to see them all on screen. The previously mentioned Murray, Driver and Sevigny take the majority of the screen time that isn’t given to the horde. Followed closely by Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) as Zelda Winston, a weird Scottish mortician who looks like Hellboy 2’s Prince Nuada with a samurai sword; a MAGA hat-wearing Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire); Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) as hardware store-owning Hank; and Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral) running a gas station. With Selena Gomez, Rosie Perez, RZA, Tom Waites, and Iggy Pop looking more alive than he has looked in a long time bringing up the rear, it’s a sad state so see so much talent – especially comedic talent – wasted.
Even if it can’t be funny, horror audiences deserve one scare, one jump, one freaky zombie to recoil at. The return from the afterlife with the single-minded need to do what they did most in life is another interesting, if quickly forgotten moment. Much like the brief moment as the film looks to start wrapping up all its loose entrails and the two guys front and centre of the whole thing start talking about the film’s script – in a scene that is part meta, part fourth wall breaking and part scathingly self aware – that screams “I thought of this joke and I need to put it in something, somewhere.”
IMDB lists The Dead Don’t Die as a horror, comedy, drama. There isn’t a laugh to be found in the entire 100 minute run time. Just an audience filled with people desperate to find an excuse to laugh at Bill Murray confusing “Deadpan” with “Lifeless and Bland”. Nor is there any tension, atmosphere or scares. The Dead Don’t Die is a bland mash of fag packet ideas put together so haphazardly, with such little thought for its end product that it fails on almost every level as a film. Everyone involved will be hastily trying to cover it up on their credits list like it’s the horror film equivalent of Movie 43.
I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.