The Dead Don’t Die Review
In the opening few minutes of Jim Jarmusch’s new film, The Dead Don’t Die, Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) drolly says to Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray): “This is going to end badly” (an ongoing joke that is eventually pummelled into submission). He is, of course, making reference to how things will eventually pan out for the inhabitants of their local town (and poking fun at its own ridiculousness), but it is also a pretty accurate description of just how horribly poor the quality of Jarmusch’s homage to the classics of the zombie sub-genre will become.
Take one look at the cast list and you’ll instantly spot the musician friends and usual faces that have regularly appeared in his films of the past few decades. Aside from the aforementioned Driver and Murray, there is Tom Waits, RZA (seen driving a Wu-PS courier van), Iggy Pop (in the most appropriate role of his small acting career), Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton and his long-time partner, Sara Driver. And it’s no surprise that The Dead Don’t Die’s loose, episodic form resembles Jarmusch’s original idea to make a sketch-based film in the vein of Coffee and Cigarettes.
Ronnie and Cliff make up two-thirds of the police force for Centreville (the other being Chloe Sevigny’s Officer Morrison), population 738, and are baffled by the extended daylight and blacking out of all the electrical devices in the town. Local newscaster Posie Juarez (yes, Rosie Perez) reports that continued polar fracking has shifted the Earth from its axis, destabilising the weather in the process. The world is on the brink of an environmental disaster it seems. Meanwhile, the dead have also been ‘reanimated’ and they suddenly start rising from their graves and eating the flesh of locals.
Jarmusch has never been one to use his cinematic work to push his political beliefs but The Dead Don’t Die is by far his most cynical yet. Well-worn zombie tropes are used as a vehicle to criticise corporate greed and the way we have all become zombified by commercialism. Zombies crawl out of their graves groaning for coffee and Wi-Fi, while others shuffle down the street with smartphones in their hands. Criticising big business for the ecological damage caused by their actions and our self-enslavement to possessions are noble ideas, but their heavy-handed presentation undercuts the potency of any message they are trying to deliver.
Much the same can be said about the comedy in the film. Tired anti-Trump and Republican jokes are abound (Buscemi wears a red ‘Keep America White Again’ hat - which is eerily timely) and punchlines are drawn-out until their pulses flatline. The deadpan humour and constant self-referencing barely raise any laughs at all and while Jarmusch’s filmmaking style has always been rather laconic in nature, the delivery of much of the dialogue is strangely limp. Maybe the point is to highlight the way we are all sleepwalking into disaster with next-to-no resistance, but the film doesn’t seem complex enough to offer it that much credit.
If there’s one person you can always rely on it is Tilda Swinton, who is having a blast as an oddball samurai sword swinging Scottish mortician, coming across as a later-life version of Uma Thurman’s Bride in Kill Bill, crossed with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Others making an appearance in the film include Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez and young male model of the moment, Luka Sabbat. A great cast it may be, but many of them don’t seem to know what they’re doing there. Running for a full 105 minutes, it asks a lot of you to keep sitting there in what is comfortably Jarmusch’s worst film to date.
The Dead Don’t Die opens in UK cinemas on July 12.