Whilst I’m sure the plethora of talent on hand here had an absolute ball making The Dead Don’t Die, Jim Jarmusch‘s deadpan (emphasis on the dead) zombie comedy fails to translate that suggested fun to its audience.
Set in the fictional mid-American town of Centreville – the epitome of smalltown USA where there isn’t much in terms of architecture beyond a morgue, a diner and a motel – The Dead Don’t Die sets up its impending zombie apocalypse with the suggestion that extensive fracking has tipped the Earth of its axis (it’s a stretch, but at least it’s original) and, in doing so, has awoken the peaceful deceased.
Local police officers Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Clifford Robertson (Bill Murray) have a suitably blasé reaction to the situation (it’s all so very Jarmusch to evoke a sense of detachment from the proceedings for his characters), as do most of the town-folk, and once they agree that what they are dealing with is in fact a zombie outbreak (“ghouls” as Driver’s meta Ronnie describes them), Jarmusch’s self-aware comedy style has all hell break loose, but in the most casual, uninteresting manner.
The ironic approach to the zombie genre is nothing new, and many comedies that have attempted prior have done so with various degrees of success (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and Planet Terror the most obvious examples), so there’s certainly no reason that The Dead Don’t Die couldn’t have worked adopting this mentality also. Plus a film that manages a glorious Iggy Pop cameo and casts Tilda Swinton as a samurai sword-wielding Scottish mortician can’t be all bad, right?
But as we’ve seen before, an impressive ensemble cast (Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and Selena Gomez also appear) and a knowing sense of self don’t always equate to a worthy movie. Jarmusch’s script is so disappointingly void of humour and scares that the evident self-indulgence just comes off as smug, and the winks to the audience by breaking the fourth wall (an inconsistent gag) by having characters admit to knowing what’s to come because they “read the full script” doesn’t infuse the film with the intelligence it so clearly believes it has.
Jarmusch enthusiasts may enjoy the nonchalant approach to the story, but for the rest of us, life’s far too valuable to waste on underwhelming cinema such as this.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Dead Don’t Die is screening in a limited Australian release from September 26th 2019.