I have to admit, I am not the biggest Jarmusch fan. Given the usual slow pace of his films especially with uneventful dramas such as Only Lovers Left Alive and Paterson, his style is a love-or-hate thing. So, having this as the foundation of his latest film – his first foray into horror – is questionable.
Starring an ensemble cast that includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton and Chloë Sevingy, The Dead Don’t Die focuses on a small community deal with a sudden zombie apocalypse.
Given the influx of zombie films released in recent years – such as Train to Busan, World War Z and The Girl With All The Gifts – they all offer a sense of excitement to emphasise the danger of the undead. However, there is a constant numbness to The Dead Don’t Die – mainly because Jarmusch incorporates a sense of self-awareness to the story, resulting in a ‘safety net’ that dials down the scare factor.
Being described as a horror comedy, The Dead Don’t Die needs have some sense of fear otherwise having zombies in it is useless. In this respect, Jarmusch fails spectacularly as the film’s ‘safe’ gory scenes and the lacklustre action sequences do not incite enough excitement to push it past its deadpan state. This, in turn, prevents audiences from forming an emotional attachment to the plot or the characters and are left to sit through the film and its inevitable predictability.
With its tame dialogue and direction nullifying the horror side of the film, it is left to the great ensemble cast to deliver the comedy. Unfortunately, everyone from Driver’s strangely calm officer Ronnie and eccentric Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) are frustratingly stifled to being mumbling, dithering idiots with very little charm. It is a criminal waste of talent, especially as we know they can offer so much more – even standout performances from Murray and Swinton (who steals the show as a Scottish, sword-wielding undertaker) are ruined by plot elements that are just ridiculous.
When The Dead Don’t Die was selected as the opening film at Cannes 2019, there was so much promise to it being another great zombie comedy but its slow and safe tone makes it one of the dullest entries in the genre so far. You will probably like it if you read the New Yorker.
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