Viewers who watch the 2019 horror film ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ can perhaps be classified into two types –
- Those who regret the decision because they find it mind-numbingly slow
- Find themselves laughing more than they should because the movie completely subverts the zombie genre.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch, it has an impressive cast that deliberately delivers deadpan performances in this satire/horror comedy. The story unfolds in a sleepy little fictional town called “Centerville”, where the dead start rising from their graves because the earth has been thrown off its axis. It’s up to two cops – the police chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) – to get the situation under control.
On the surface, ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ does resemble most zombie films, with Jim Jarmusch borrowing a lot of tested horror tropes – gory deaths and the faithful “kill the head” rule. But the treatment can feel underwhelming to most watchers. There is close to no sense of urgency in the plot, no jarring survival tactics, very little screaming, dispassionate protagonists and a leisurely paced background music that can lull some to sleep. The title track is played one too many times, it’s a laid-back song by Sturgill Simpson that has his signature spaced-out country music stamp.
The film almost feels like a parody play and Jarmusch clearly had a lot of fun making it, putting the economic viability of such a script on the back-burner. Only horror-enthusiasts will be able to appreciate this politically driven drivel. For example, the zombies aren’t completely dumb and gravitate towards things they were fond of when they were alive. So you have zombies heading to a diner to grab some coffee, undead musicians looking for guitars, and a whole bunch of them holding cellphones and looking for wifi. Where the hell did they get those phones from? But the whole wifi scene was a fun jab at us humans who are disconnected from reality and constantly staring at our screens like we’re dead.
There was one hilarious scene, where the zombies are trying to break into the house of farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) and he shoots at them saying “I won’t let you refugees take over our country”. It was a stark dig at Trump’s America. In-fact, farmer Miller’s character constantly walks around town wearing a cap with the slogan “Make America White Again”. Tom Waits plays ‘Hermit Bob’, to serve as a contrast to all the materialistic folks around him, living in the woods and watching the world burn.
Among the oddball but impressive cast was Tilda Swinton, who plays Zelda Winston, an eccentric foreigner who runs the funeral home in town. She is a weird sword-wielding lady who suavely chops off the waking dead. It looked like Jarmusch was parodying her role from Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’, where she plays ‘The Ancient One’, Strange’s mentor and a Celtic mystic. Chloe Sevigny as police officer Mindy was the only person in the mix who was allowed to emote regular human expressions. Selena Gomez has a small cameo as a hipster where she pretty much plays herself. And there was a whole sub-plot involving a juvenile home which was pretty unnecessarily.
“The Dead Don’t Die” is laden with so many pop-culture references & political jibes, that those who don’t catch all the little jokes will find it painfully boring. Well, some might even catch them and still not be too amused. At one point, the characters break the fourth-wall, although not in the conventional way, and discuss the movie script. Now ‘breaking the fourth wall’ is a very tricky trope, a lot of movie-enthusiasts tend to find it supremely annoying and pretentious. But like mentioned earlier, doesn’t seem like Jarmusch was keeping audience preferences in mind.
If you are looking for a fast-paced regular zombie action film, avoid “The Dead Don’t Die” at all costs. If you are hard-core horror enthusiasts like me, who loves all kinds of stuff, from big budget haunted house movies to B-grade trashy slasher scripts, give this film a chance by all means.
It’s a 6/10 from me.
Trivia: Singer Sturgill Simpson plays the guitar wielding zombie
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