As someone who watches horror movies for a living, I’ve seen my fair share of zombie films. Between the multitude of films that are released each year to the worldwide phenomenon that is The Walking Dead, I’ve reached the point of over-saturation in regards to the zombie genre. However, that all changed when I attended a screening of Jim Jarmusch‘s (Only Lovers Left Alive) latest film, THE DEAD DON’T DIE, which featured an all-star cast set in the mid-west during an unfortunate zombie apocalypse.
THE DEAD DON’T DIE takes place in the sleepy small town of Centerville, where the townsfolk have begun to realize that something is not quite right. The moon hangs large and low in the sky, the hours of daylight are becoming unpredictable, and animals are beginning to exhibit unusual behavior. Most of the people believe that this is in response to the polar fracking which has knocked Earth’s axis off of its rotation but no one quite knows for sure but news outlets and scientists are concerned. But no one was ready to handle the strangest and most dangerous repercussion that will soon start plaguing Centerville: The Undead! They have begun to rise from their graves in search of human flesh with the citizens of Centerville left to do all that they can to survive this zombie apocalypse.
Prior to seeing THE DEAD DON’T DIE, the only other Jim Jarmusch film that I was familiar with was Only Lovers Left Alive, which I really loved. Going into this movie I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had a feeling it was going to bring its own form of quirkiness to this particular subgenre, and it most certainly did. What I think I appreciated most about this film was that in my mind, it perfectly encapsulated what I thought a real zombie apocalypse would be. At the forefront of the film is Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry) who play three police officers in the small town of Centerville. They go about their day with very little bother as the town doesn’t have much in the form of excitement unless you consider the actions of Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), also the narrator of the film, exciting. However, they do begin to realize something is off when the daylight hours become out of whack, prompting Officer Ronnie Peterson (Driver) to exclaim, “This isn’t going to end well,” and he couldn’t be more on the nose about that.
The film is filled with a menagrie of talented actors ranging from Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, RZA, and Caleb Landry Jones, but the main focus is centered on our three officers as the looming realization of what is transpiring comes to fruition. The acting and humor, for the most part, is incredibly dry which might be offputting to some. If you’re hoping for a slapstick, over-the-top zombie movie, this is not the one. When the zombie’s do appear, in the evening hours, of course, they make haste to the first available human they find. Even when the townfolk realize what is at stake, most act with very few emotions, save for Officer Mindy Morrison (Sevigny) who screams and cries in abject terror. At one point, Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) yells at Officer Peterson, in absolute frustration, on how relaxed Peterson seems to be and in reply, he just shrugs and says he knew things weren’t going to end well. All the while, Sturgill Simpson’s song The Dead Don’t Die plays throughout different moments of the film signaling the overarching themes at play.
Speaking of themes, the most notable ones within the film reference materialism and consumerism, with the zombies uttering only one word in reference to something they loved when they were alive. But what sets these zombies apart from other films that focus on the undead is how they are killed. After the screening, Jim Jarmusch did a Q&A session where he talked about how he’s not a huge fan of gore, so when the zombies were killed, with headshots, they erupt into a cloud of mysterious black dust. This reminded me of that incredible scene in Kingsman when Colin Firth’s character annihilates everyone in the church. Furthermore, Jarmusch incorporated a lot of practical effects in regards to the zombie’s appearances and even when their second death arrives, the FX work was seamlessly incorporated into the practical effects. Furthermore, it was evident that Jarmusch had a lot of respect for George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead with a slew of homages in the film that pay tribute to the late director.
In all, THE DEAD DON’T DIE is the zombie horror comedy I’ve been waiting for. It will easily be off-putting for some but I don’t think director Jim Jarmusch made this film for the masses. It’s eccentric and odd but that’s what I find most endearing about it. Furthermore, no character is safe in this zombie apocalypse – something that very few movies are willing to risk doing. In the end, THE DEAD DON’T DIE might not be for everyone but it’ll find it’s place among fans of Jarmusch’s work and those who are looking for an offbeat take on a subgenre that could easily use a fresh facelift. THE DEAD DON’T DIE arrives in select theaters June 14, 2019.
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