2019 | rated R | starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, Rosie Perez, Tom Waits, Carol Kane, Danny Glover | written & directed by Jim Jarmusch | 1 hr 44 mins |
How prolific are zombie movies? They’ve reached such a point of oversaturation that here comes indie auteur Jim Jarmusch emerging from his hermit bunker about 10 years after the fact to lend his trademark dry-as-a-board sense of humor to them. The Dead Don’t Die (cute, right?) is a miserable experience both as a genre film and as an end-of-days allegory from Jarmusch driven mad by 2019 politics.
Bill Murray and Adam Driver are two cops in the sleepy town of Centerville who get in over their head after fraking at the north pole causes the Earth to slip off of it’s axis (it is unclear if Jarmusch knows what fraking is) and that cosmic imbalance makes the dead rise from their graves and feast on the brains of the living. The first such attack occurs at the local coffee shop causing officer Mindy (Chloey Sevigny) to lose her lunch and Officer Peterson (Driver) to immediately suspect zombies. The town hermit (Tom Waits) is being accused of chicken theft by the town racist (Steve Buscemi, in a Make America White Again hat seen only in props for this movie and possibly The Good Fight) and three teenagers (lead by Selena Gomez) are passing through town making a pit stop at the local motel in the movie’s most compelling story.
Can Bill Murray make anything funny? Jarmusch proves the answer is no with flat dialog and direction to match Murray’s general tired demeanor. Murray and Driver are the comedy sucker bait here, deadpan musing about unimportant things, hopelessly out of their depth to do anything while the town descends into hoards of the undead around them. That would be one thing, but Jarmusch has a lot baked into this rancid cake and everything in Dead Don’t Die feels old and moldy. Jarmusch has clearly seen Night of the Living Dead but seems to think that nobody else has, using zombies to satirize contemporary life rolling over the same ground Romeo did 40 years ago and Shaun of the Dead did 15 years ago. The zombies of Die wander around moaning for coffee, chardonnay and wi-fi in the same way that Shaun‘s post-zombie world started out almost indistinguishable from the pre-zombie world. We are the consumer zombies. We are the walking dead. We get it. We got it a very long time ago.
Watching each character’s deadpan quirkiness roll out one-liner after one-liner that flops to the floor is one thing, but Jarmusch gets aggressive with the jokes. Out of nowhere he breaks the 4th wall on a few obnoxiously self-referential occasions having Murray and Driver reference the film’s theme song (which is a tune to hang yourself by), the script, the ending and Jim himself. He sets up a true hero with Tilda Swinton as the town’s samurai sword-wielding coroner – although after Snowpiercer, Okja, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, Doctor Strange and Suspiria falling back on the talents of Tilda Swinton in full wacky costume like the female Johnny Depp feels itself like a trite cliche.
People are slowly eaten, zombies are slowly blasted and Jarmusch meanders around trying to say something. About frakking? About Donald Trump? About consumerism and social apathy? It all becomes a dreary nihilistic mess. Remember at the end of 2016 when social media was absolutely melting down because a bunch of celebrities had died that year and everyone declared all hope was lost and society should just curl up in the fetal position and die. The Dead Don’t Die is the movie version of that.
That said, the dusty zombies look pretty cool.