‘The Dead Don’t Die’ a slow burn of dumb fun

by Tim English on June 13, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

The Dead Don’t Die is a fun little zombie comedy that may not hit with most audiences that will flock to it. The bluegrass horror comedy from writer and director Jim Jarmusch is a bit of a crawl at times, but the cast is incredible and if you can swallow the meds Jim is feeding you, there is so much fun that outweighs the few things that don’t quite come together.

The film is set in the small town of Centerville, which … maybe they said what state and maybe they didn’t (Pennsylvania, duh), but really it’s just Small Town, USA. When some weird shit starts happening, like the sun not setting, animals mysteriously disappearing, bizarre radio signals, etc., news reports link it to fracking disasters on the northern and southern polar ice caps.

But when the dead start rising from the graves, two local peace officers, Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) are thrown into serve and protect mode, even if there is nothing they can do about it other than mutter quirky dialogue and debate whether or not they’re dealing with zombies or a wild animal (or more than one animal).

The cast though is what sells this movie. Murray and Driver are at their deadpan best. And they could probably carry the entire movie by themselves, but fortunately they are surrounded by ton of talented character actors, including Chloë Sevigny as a deputy, as well as Steve Buscemi, and Danny Glover. Then there is Tilda Swinton, who may or may not be playing herself in what is already one of my favorite supporting roles of the year. Most of them seem happy enough to be mere cameos, for example, Selena Gomez who shows up driving the same Pontiac LeMans from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).

This is where the film really has fun with itself. There are a ton of little easter eggs, if you’re into that sort of thing. But don’t worry, if you don’t catch them all, the characters will be sure to point them out to you, because well, that’s the sort of movie this is. It just kinda lumbers along, making smart-ass comments, breaking the fourth wall in some hilarious ways, and paying homage to the hundreds of zombie night movies that have come before it, all while dipping into most of those movies’ tropes without coming off as too cliche.

There are plenty of flaws and miscues that will prevent this flick from elevating into mainstream popularity but nothing that can’t be overcome if you just accept this movie for what it is. At times it’s dull and slow but I kinda feel like that was Jarmusch’s intention. There are a few plot lines that get introduced and never quite get resolved, some even get dropped entirely, but nothing that takes away from what the movie is trying to accomplish — and that’s to entertain. It’s not meant for mainstream audiences and it’s not setting up sequels. It just exists.

There is a bit of social commentary at play here, with the whole fracking is destroying the world, small towns are dying out and we’re all fucking zombie slaves to our electronic devices and shameful vices. But it’s never preachy nor is it pretentiously stuck up about the ideas it’s presenting. We all know we’re turning into zombies – no need to be offended, right?

The Dead Don’t Die is an offbeat, quirky zombie comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously and certainly takes its time getting to where it wants to go, but the amazing cast alone is worth a viewing and if you’re willing to accept the rules Jarmusch is playing by with his fourth-wall breaking script, you’re gonna have some fun. Plus, it has a theme song. How can you go wrong?

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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