Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch has always made films for him, the way he wants them. I wouldn’t call any of his films ‘commercial’, per se. Some are more accessible than others, perhaps, but commercial? Not really.
That being the case, some of his films resonate more than others. I like most of his films such as, Down By Law, Night On Earth, Dead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers. But The Dead Don’t Die, Jarmusch’s comedic take on the zombie film, doesn’t quite land for me.
Normally, I’d be all-in with a zombie comedy. Even with Jarmusch’s slow, dry humor, The Dead Don’t Die was working for me at first. And the social messages of the film were good, too. But eventually, it was the same message over and over again and then he just spelled it out for the audience as if we couldn’t figure it out based on the film itself.
The premise is incredibly simple and familiar: the quiet town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead rise from their graves.
They use fracking at the north and south poles as a cause for the Earth’s orbit shifting slightly and causing the whole undead thing. Ok, cool, that message is relevant. The dead begin to rise and they start doing the things they used to do when they were alive – even diverting them from the desire to eat human flesh. It’s funny to see zombies noticing the pot of coffee in a diner and getting up from the body their eating and saying “Cooffeeee…”. They pour a cup into their mouth and it spills down the front of their shirts. Funny.
The cast is wonderful – Bill Murray as the sheriff, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny as two of his officers, Steve Buscemi as the local crazy Republican, Danny Glover as the local hardware store owner, and so many others. Iggy pop as a zombie is a hoot. Larry Fessenden is in this, and Tom Waits as Hermit Bob, the local kooky recluse that lives in the woods.
We see the zombies doing things that they remember doing in life: bumping into pharmacy doors numbing “Adderall” or “prozac”, holding a cell phone saying “Siri”. This is all funny stuff throughout the film, but then, Tom Waits’ character Hermit bob will look through binoculars observing the zombies and do a voice over describing how everyone is a mindless consumer. Hey, thanks, I think I already got that from the actions of the zombies. I don’t need to be told. It’s like the Blade Runner voice over. It’s overkill.
The Dead Don’t Die is pretty low key and slowly paced. Sure, it’s darkly funny and has an amusing way of giving us social messages, but eventually it just keeps repeating itself and over stating it. The hour and 44 minutes runtime is a bit much for this film. Maybe if they had trimmed it to 90 minutes it wouldn’t have been so bad. The Dead Don’t Die is almost a 3 kittenhand film. But not quite. Wait for video or streaming. It’s not like you need to see this on the big screen, unless you think Jim Jarmusch can do no wrong.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, waiting for Spider-Man: Far From Home, I guess.