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‘The Dead Don’t Die’ (review)

Produced by Carter Logan, Joshua Astrachan
Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton,
Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover,
Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop,
Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez,
Larry Fessenden, Tom Waits


I have a love/hate relationship with the new zombie film, The Dead Don’t Die by Jim Jarmusch.

I want to hate it but I secretly love it.

In the same breath, I secretly hate it, but really want to love it.

There is a lot to unpack in this cynical new entry into the Jarmusch oeuvre. I went in thinking I would get something more along the lines of Only Lovers Left Alive, what I got was something much much different.

The Dead Don’t Die is more art house and harkens back to Jarmusch’s earlier works and while it is his most “commercial” film to date, it seems like his most subversive because of it.

Marketed as the next Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland the film is more bleak and hopeless than the other films combined and much like the film it take most of its influence from, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, there is as much social commentary as there is head shots.

Where Romero’s themes were the disillusionment with what America was in the 60’s with the Cold War, Media, and the Vietnam war, Jarmusch is about consumerism, the environment, and how narcissistic we as a society have with social media and the internet. I get the feeling that Jarmusch is going for “What would actually happen if there was a zombie apocalypse?” I think his answer is pretty spot on. Not much, because in fact we have all become our own brand of zombies. Mindlessly trudging through life staring at our cell phones, posting crap on Facebook and Twitter, lead by the worst most narcissistic zombie of all, 45.

Set in a tiny, rual, woodland town of Centerville, an “Anytown USA”, the usual peace and quiet is interrupted by the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. It is up to the three main peace officers of the town, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and the hapless Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevingy) to defend the townsfolk and do their best to stem the wave of undead terrorizing their little hamlet.

Zombies exist and are known in Jarmusch’s world, throughout the film there are nods to zombie films of the past. This film is rife with easter eggs from past goulish films. The only difference here is that these zombies are as drawn to things they liked in life, like coffee and cigarettes, iPhones, and material goods as they are to brains and flesh. Not to say they have abandoned the “old ways” there is plenty of good ole killings of people as well.

It seems that something called “Polar frakking” seems to be the reason for this recent spade of undead risings. Officers Robertson and Peterson are mostly unphased by this. Bill Murray takes his nonchalant, passive observer character he has developed over the last decade to a new level of “huh”. Adam Driver proves to be a great deadpan comedian. His matter of fact “Well this is going to end badly” and almost meta observations about their situation are some of the funniest moments in the film. Sevingy’s Officer Morrison is 100% freaked out and not handling any of this well. This is a great role reversal for Sevigny as she is usually the level headed cool character in these films.

This film is a who’s who of actors and actresses that have previous starred in a Jim Jarmusch film. Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, RZA, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, and Sara Driver all return and are all perfectly cast.

Back to what I love and hate it. The art student film maker in me loves the subversive nature of what Jarmusch is doing with the genre and twisting it on is head. Audiences are going to go into this film thinking it is going to be a Shaun of the Dead or some equally hilarious “zomcom”. What they are going to get is Jim Jarmusch’s social study of America and how far we have fallen into ourselves. Where the real joke is that there is no joke. That everything is bleak as hell and even if you want to do something about it you will be fighting a horde of zombies who want to destroy you regardless of how well meaning you are. I hate that I feel like he didn’t take it far enough and that I was left feeling like something was missing from this film. I left the film feeling uneasy. Not the uneasy he wanted me to feel but the unease of potential not fulfilled.

Where this is not his best film, it is a very good film and even with its flaws it is still better than like 90% of the films produced today.



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