The Dead Don’t Die: A slow horror movie, but there’s some fun to be had along the way
Far more intriguing than it eventually turns out to be, Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie movie – in the same way that Only Lovers Left Alive is a vampire movie, Ghost Dog is a samurai movie, Dead Man is a western, and so on. These films use genre, ostensibly, as both a post-modern joke – calling attention to the practical absurdities of tropes, e.g. Tom Hiddleston’s moody vampire stealing blood from the local hospital, Ghost Dog using pigeons to communicate with mob bosses – and as a jumping off point for all of Jarmusch’s usual pet obsessions about time and culture.
The Dead Don’t Die mostly fails on this count, as it eventually morphs into a slow, dull horror movie whose metafictional jokes only highlight how perfunctory the exercise is. But there’s some fun to be had along the way. Working with an undeniably stacked cast – including Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny as the local cops of a small town called Centerville, Tilda Swinton as an oddball Scottish coroner/samurai, Tom Waits as a forest-dwelling hermit, and Iggy Pop as, obviously, a zombie – Jarmusch works overtime to create one of his hermetically sealed spaces where anything, it seems, can happen.
Since before the dead even come to life, the town of Centerville is an odd place, where daylight stretches on for too long, animals have run amok, and the same song keeps playing on the radio. Jarmusch keeps things interesting by keeping us guessing as to what he’s up to, and setting up repeating jokes – sometimes laboured, sometimes inspired. There’s a tangible undertow of political anger, as pundits on the radio deny any scientific evidence of trouble, and Steve Buscemi plays an overt stereotype of a Trump supporter. It’s almost a mockery of the same small-town Americana that he (basically) celebrated in Pattison; the diner and police station are sarcastically labelled in boring fonts, and the small-town patter is almost ludicrously twee.
Then the dead rise, and things turn explicitly George Romero – who Jarmusch references by name, of course, along with Herman Melville, and plenty of others. But we’ve seen this before. Zombies moan about the things they were obsessed with before – “coffee”, “baseball”, “Wi-Fi” – and the ensemble clash and overlap as they’re overrun. Whatever thread Jarmusch was tugging on, he seems to lose, and an outré meta-climax isn’t quite enough to claw things back.
The Dead Don’t Die is released nationwide on 12th July 2019.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for The Dead Don’t Die here: