The Dead Don’t Die is the latest film from Jim Jarmusch and a star-studded cast with the likes of Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, and more. The movie centers on a zombie apocalypse as experienced within a small town, very much akin to classic zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead. Much like the zombies within the film, though, The Dead Don’t Die is a slow and dreadful movie, and not even the cast can piece it back together.
The start of the film meddles within the boring town and the strange occurrences that are happening within it that allude to the oncoming apocalypse. It’s interesting to watch what is happening within the world while being aware of the outcome, but the way The Dead Don’t Die does it isn’t nearly as fresh and engaging as the start of Shaun of the Dead, another zombie comedy with similar tones. It takes a bit for the movie to even get rolling, with it being a third of the movie before a zombie even shows up, and then after that still sinks back into its buildup for the next 30 minutes (that’s nearly an hour of runtime with only one scene containing a zombie).
In a horror movie eerie buildup wouldn’t be an issue, it would most likely just make the payoff all the scarier, but The Dead Don’t Die is only a horror movie in the loosest sense. The Dead Don’t Die is more of an examination of consumerism that takes the form of something you might expect if you’re familiar with director Jim Jarmusch’s back catalog, and the trademark style can charm in parts. The film is an obvious critique of culture, but its quickly tiresome banter and messaging are very surface level and add little in terms of ironic social commentary.
The Dead Don’t Die has a take on zombies that takes a different spin than nearly every other zombie movie and takes place within a universe where zombies are a part of pop culture like real life. The zombies in The Dead Don’t Die retain a sense of humanity in the form of shallow modernity. In what is straight out of a rejected political cartoon zombies will moan things like “coffee” or “wi-fi” instead of the typical “brains” we’re all accustomed to. What appears to be a slight on hipsters (which the film directly references) comes off as cheesy when it seems the intention was more meant to be a clever self-awareness. The overlying problem with The Dead Don’t Die is that it thinks it’s smarter than it is.
The movie takes on a deadpan form of humor, and it’s very hit or miss. There are a few moments that are meant to have a meta form of comedy to them, but they more just feel out of place within the world of the feature. At other points the comedy really works, though, and those points are the standout moments of the movie. The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t contain a single bad performance, but a few characters got the short end of the stick when it comes to the script. For example, Tilda Swinton is great in her role, but the character is strange in a way that comes off as silly at many points. Adam Driver is definitely the highlight, with his comedic chops shining even in the face of Bill Murray. Adam Driver previously worked with Jim Jarmusch on Paterson, which had a similar study of the complexities in small town living, but this theme works much better for Jarmusch in a small drama film about personal ambition than it does a politically inconsistent satire.
The Dead Don’t Die has an airy atmosphere to it down to the ambient and droning soundtrack, capturing the vibe of a small town really well- too well, even. The film feels stuck in this town where there’s not much interesting going on, which is a perfect metaphor for The Dead Don’t Die. Jim Jarmusch is a great director, and it’s nice to see him putting his own spin on different genres, but the two styles just don’t mesh. There are funny moments of dry comedy from the ensemble cast, but this zombie flick goes nowhere but into the grave.