THE DEAD DON’T DO ANYTHING NEW
Movie Review – The Dead Don’t Die
Review by Ray Schillaci
The tag line for Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, The Dead Don’t Die, is “The greatest zombie cast ever disassembled”. When I looked at the cast – Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi – I got excited. There are even fringe players who are Jarmusch regulars – Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, RZA. I just didn’t know what the film was about. So, I went to see it, and it turns out the filmmakers didn’t know either.
It’s clear Jarmusch is making a zombie movie. Here’s a genre that’s been done a thousand times, and I haven’t checked IMDB to be sure, but that may not be an exaggeration. By now, if you’re tackling this genre, you have to bring something new. I remember when The Walking Dead debuted on AMC, I couldn’t believe they were going to take on a zombie storyline, no way were they going to come up with anything new. And yet, they did. Often! Now, the show has doubled down on the people and, to me, it’s not as interesting. Movies like Zombieland and Warm Bodies brought a new angle, but all the while, a horde of other films re-hashed the same take that didn’t advance the genre.
The Dead Don’t Die seems to have many different approaches it wants to explore. If it committed to one of them, it may have been a win for me, but as it stands, the film languishes in decent ideas only half-explored. Early, it seems like the movie’s going to give us an ultra-laconic small town’s take on a zombie apocalypse. That’d be different. But soon, characters whose presence is pointless or characters who are weird for weird’s sake derail or distract that notion. There’s also a scene early on that announces the film is going to be fourth wall-breaking self-referential. But that’s done so infrequently, it seems more like a mistake than a good idea (which it would’ve been if committed to!). By the end, there’s even an angle where it’s posited that we’re zombies, coasting through life, pointlessly addicted to meaningless things. Another fine idea hinted at but finally mentioned towards the end rather than explored thoroughly by an inquisitive script.
Jarmusch is referred to at one point in the movie and there are other references to coffee and WU-Tang Clan that made me think Jarmusch just made this movie for himself and his cast and people who already really like his movies, ‘cause the meandering detachedness of The Dead Don’t Die certainly isn’t going to win over any new fans. A Jarmusch comedy normally elevates those who are odd, but here the odd are left to flounder in meaninglessness or die at the hands of zombies to where neither the oddness nor the potential of good-time zombie fun are enjoyable.
Even when they’ve nothing to do, the cast seems game. I want to see Bill Murray as a sly winner in a film one more time, but it seems he’s perfectly happy to play ultra-dry nowadays. He does that fine here and is paired well with Adam Driver, who has similarly good timing. Tilda Swinton was asked to come in and be strange. She’s that, but it’s not really fulfilling (she’s capable of so much more). Other players like Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones bring a lot of energy to their roles, only to have their storylines shortchanged. Ditto Selena Gomez, leading a trio of millennials into town right when things get weird with zombies, but their plot goes nowhere, and not in a “that was a shock” kind of way, but more disappointing.
Unfortunately, Sevigny and Rosie Perez come off the worst. Sevigny’s police officer is relegated to a hanger-on until unmotivated behavior towards the end has her overacting her way to death. Perez is unbelievable as an anchorwoman who has a comic moment that falls as flat as flat can get. Ouch.
So, another zombie movie comes and goes and, once again, I have to refer to the master, George A. Romero. If you want a shrewd take on man’s consumerism coupled with a gorefest, give 1978’s Dawn of the Dead another look (or a first look if you haven’t!).
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Run Time: 104 Minutes
Distributor: Focus Features