In Jim Jarmusch’s latest, THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019), he digs for social commentary with a fresh take on the zombie genre that deadpans rather than bites.
The town of Centerville is dealing with some strange phenomena. Days last longer and night comes suddenly, animals are fleeing into the wilderness, and the climate is changing, with polar fracking believed responsible as it has tilted Earth off its axis. We’re introduced to an ensemble cast led by Bill Murray and Adam Driver as local cops, and including many other greats from Steve Buscemi to Tilda Swinton. While they roll with the big changes, one arrives that truly threatens extinction–the dead are rising with a hunger for flesh.
Two days later, I’m still not sure what to think of this movie. The sum here is definitely greater than the parts. As for its parts, the deadpan delivery doesn’t achieve real wit or charm, the dialogue often doesn’t go anywhere, there are no character arcs (the great acting talent feels wasted), the characters needed to be lovable for this type of film but aren’t, the political commentary panders to its core audience, and the moments of breaking the fourth wall (Adam Driver referring to the fact they’re in a movie) is more irritating than pithy. The film works better on a thematic level, even if the message is bleak: humans live their own scripts, acting out their roles because they must, with none of it meaning much, and with extinction not really changing anything and perhaps being deserved. “This is going to end badly,” Driver monotones, referring both to the zombie outbreak and life itself, but, “We have to give it our best shot.”
So overall, with its artsy director, stellar cast, and that creative playground that is the zombie genre, THE DEAD DON’T DIE had far more potential than it delivers, resulting in a beautiful swing and a miss for me as a viewer. Still, it has its charm–I didn’t hate it, and I actually kind of liked it.