The Dead Don’t Die
To most filmmakers, it may seem contradictory to craft your trademark minimalist style around the outlandish “zombie apocalypse” template, not to mention while lacing in some stony comedy, but this is a glaring clue as to why we have always called director Jim Jarmusch an innovative maverick.
After an event of polar fracking, reanimated corpses plague the quiet town of Centerville and its eclectic bag of inhabitants who range from wise to witless. On paper, it sounds like a definite change of pace for Jarmusch, but nonetheless, all of his recognisable strengths manage to shine through, as usual, in terms of character, dialogue and especially performance.
Indeed, with such a star cast to work with (not limited to Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Tilda Swinton), it was unquestionably hard to fail in this department, and Jarmusch keeps the laughs consistent early on. Each new character has their quirks solidly established by use of their amusingly vague, goofy or introspective observations, but it is strange that two-thirds of this impressive ensemble has so little to work with.
The positives of The Dead Don’t Die are all introduced and run out of steam by the halfway point, just as the undead piles on. The zombies themselves are played disappointingly conventionally, with no twist or surprises to them – a staleness that is at odds with the film’s overall distinct feel. Additionally, the pace begins slow but suddenly escalates too quickly, causing an unbalanced structure that is typical of Jarmusch, but in this instance is to the picture’s detriment.
In a bizarre but successful effort, the director simultaneously cracks deadpan humour while flaunting his understanding of horror cinema, both on a stylish and trivial level. Considering this is his horror debut, specific nods to Romero, Nosferatu and even a bemusing reminder of Plan 9 from Outer Space display how surprisingly deep Jarmusch’s affection goes, but it is the movie’s mood where he shows more practical knowledge.
Its slow-burn, off-kilter atmosphere wouldn’t be unfit for any straight-faced horror picture (aided by a simple musical score – ominous shreds of a distorted guitar, composed by Jarmusch’s band, SQÜRL), and some Gothic sensibilities – misty cemeteries, the full moon, skeletal forests – really offer visual treats for the old-fashioned horror fanatic.
It takes an innovative mind to execute this idea, and while this film is a good start heavily bolstered by its cast, it feels as if Jarmusch didn’t delve deep enough into his idiosyncrasy to render The Dead Don’t Die the type of bold or fresh venture we have come to expect from him.
The Dead Don’t Die is released nationwide on 12th July 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Dead Don’t Die here: