Jim Jarmusch’s horror-comedy The Dead Don’t Die revives the waning zombie apocalypse genre with a hilarious, one-of-a-kind film.
With a star-studded roster including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez, among many others, it’s hard to argue against its claim to be “the greatest zombie cast ever disassembled”.
While Jarmusch picks apart the clichés of an end-of-the-world zombie thriller, the film also critiques society’s zombie-like materialism, with a town already dead before the dead even arrive.
It all begins in the small tight-knit town of Centerville, “A Really Nice Place” where nothing really happens. We meet protagonists Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his partner, Officer Ronnie Petersen (Adam Driver), as they’re confronting Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), who stands accused of chicken theft from fellow Centerville resident and irritable farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi).
The plot thus far is so laughably mundane, it makes it all the more humorous to see these characters fighting off the living dead later on. Suddenly, things start to get a little strange in little ol’ Centerville. The communication signals start to wear off, the days are becoming alarmingly longer, and the town’s animals are either acting wildly or are disappearing altogether.
We find out that these strange happenings are the result of the Earth literally falling off its axis due to a phenomenon called ‘polar fracking’ – and this is where the zombies come in. With the help of Scottish samurai Zelda (Tilda Swinton) and not-so-horrified Officer Minerva “Mindy” Morrison (Chloë Sevigny), Centerville’s residents need to prepare for the fight of their lives… but Jarmusch isn’t in the greatest hurry to get to it.
The Dead Don’t Die is an obvious Jarmusch film – with deafening silences and prolonged still shots, and the overall plot fizzling out in favour of an in-depth focus on character development and mood.
Most notably, Jarmusch likes to replicate certain scenes shot-by-shot several times, to carry across his uniquely deadpan comedic tone. Although it can grow tiring at times to hear, “Was it a wild animal? Several wild animals?” over and over again, it does produce a kind of dry humour that is characteristic of Jarmusch’s filmmaking. Jarmusch can turn any simple shot into comedic gold. So no matter what’s happening, it can usually elicit a chuckle or two.
Zombie films are almost a broken record at this point, with little suspense tied to a genre where the storyline is so clichéd and obvious. However, this isn’t your typical horror zombie film. Rather than fearing the flesh-eating zombies, the viewer almost sympathises with how depressing they appear, as they cling to old habits they had when they were alive. Nothing screams terrifying like zombies slumping around looking for a Wi-Fi signal or desperately craving a coffee. It’s almost scarier that an audience can relate to the zombies and their desire to devour ‘things’ rather than brains. Perhaps this is exactly the point Jarmusch is trying to make with The Dead Don’t Die, to highlight that society is already displaying these zombie-like tendencies, and just like the characters in the film, no one’s too fussed about it.
All in all, The Dead Don’t Die may leave its audiences feeling similar to how one might feel after watching an episode of Black Mirror; confused yet happily entertained. Jarmusch ignores and then completely gives in to the zombie genre, creating a story that’s been told dozens of times, but never quite like this.
The Dead Don’t Die opens in select theatres on September 24.