Dry, droll and deadpan are what you always get with Jim Jarmusch (and that’s fine with me), but The Dead Don’t Die, a small-town zombie comedy, is too slow, passive, resigned, lethargic and self-referential. It kind of works during the first half, but gradually spaces itself out.
Die‘s central problem is that it’s about watching a zombie apocalypse rather than somehow dealing with it.
Strange as this sounds, none of the characters actually try to survive. Well, they do but half-heartedly. It’s a laid-back hipster riff, but if you want to get serious and divine a social-political message, the film is basically saying “we’re going so wrong now and are more or less fucked at this point so why even fight it?”
Jarmusch occasionally flirts with the thematic thrust of George Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead (passive, brain-dead consumers are real-life zombies) and takes shots at the spreading Trump cancer, but he doesn’t really engage. Well, he does but in the manner of an aging, despairing, heavy-lidded type.
The Dead Don’t Die is baroquely amusing here and there, but the mood of laid-back nihilism and a general “submission to the plague” mentality is too persistent. Around the two-thirds mark the lack of any semblance of narrative energy starts to work against itself.
Horror fans are going to stay away in droves, Joe Popcorn is going to say “where’s the movie?” and Jarmusch devotees are going to feel under-nourished.
Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny play cops in an upper New York State town called Centerville, and all they really do is watch and comment, watch and comment, watch and comment.
Tilda Swinton plays the only truly cool character — an eccentric small-town samurai mortician.
Tom Waits plays a kind of Greek chorus character named Hermit Bob — a woods-dwelling hobo who provides despairing commentary now and then, especially toward the end. Steve Buscemi, RZA, Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones are typical Jarmusch-styled eccentrics (a snarly Trump fanatic with a dog named Rumsfeld, a wisdom-dispensing UPS delivery man, a kindly townie, and a gas-station owner with an encyclopedic knowledge of film and comic books, respectively).
I’m sorry to be panning. I’m a huge fan of Only Lovers Left Alive (which I only saw once but has gotten better and better the more I’ve thought about it) and Paterson. I had the feeling during tonight’s screening that Jarmusch wrote the script too quickly and hadn’t really thought things through. But the main problem is that his story and direction are just as lethargic as his characters.