Review: The Dead Don’t Die

Anyone who’s been a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s movies over the years – Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train – knows he has an off-center view of the world and it’s events. So going into his take on a zombie flick, you don’t expect the usual Night of the Living Dead scare-fest. And you don’t get one. What you get is a deadpan Sheriff (Bill Murray) and his pessimistic Deputy (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) dealing with their small town being overrun by hordes of their friends and family from the nearby graveyard, all watched from afar by the town’s wise Hermit Bob (Tom Waites). It’s a fairly straight zombie apocalypse story, but it’s peopled by a slew of wacky Jarmusch characters and told with a wink and a nod. All in all it’s sometimes fun, but definitely not a film for lovers of the horror genre it’s making fun of the whole time.

It all begins with the sun not setting and everyone knowing that there’s something going wrong in Centerville. The news reports that it’s because polar fracking is tipping Earth off its axis. Deputy Ronnie tells Sheriff Cliff “this is not going to end well.” And before you know it there are a couple of zombies (Iggy Pop and Sara Driver) digging their way out of the ground and heading to the diner for a bite, which just happens to be a couple of the waitresses. Meanwhile in another story thread, the new owner of the town mortuary Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton) demonstrates that she’s expert with a samurai sword, which comes in handy later on when the town is overrun. And around town we’re introduced to a colorful array of locals who will all battle the zombies by the end of the film. There’s Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) who owns the convenience store. And Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) the racist farmer Sheriff Cliff hates. And a car full of hipsters (Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat) just passin’ through from Cleveland. So with a setup like that you’d expect a great payoff. Well…

I’m usually a big fan of Jarmusch because he treats his misfit characters with such care. His films have always been on the fringe. He was a hipster before it became hip. But this time around, the film feels very much like he just called a bunch of his A-list friends, tossed off a script over the weekend, and went for it. There are a several “breaking the fourth wall” moments that come off more lazy than funny. And the Tilda Swinton storyline, which takes up a tiny part of the film, is the most interesting bit of it all. There are certainly funny moments and lines, and the all-star cast is fun to watch, but it misses the mark way too often for me to recommend running out to see it. It will be just as fun on the small screen. So wait for it.

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