The town of Centerville used to be “A Real Nice Place” according to the sign that welcomes you to this sleepy farmland. The kind of town where a white farmer wears a hat that says “Keep America White Again” while talking to a black farmer in the local diner. The gas station doubles as a horror themed comic shop, but it’s not so out of the way that it can’t get regular deliveries from WU-PS (because RZA is the delivery man. Get it?). The three local cops are going about their quiet lives on the day that the dead decide to rise from the grave. Nobody seems very surprised though since Adam Driver’s junior cop immediately pegs this disturbance as zombies. What follows is the dead-est of deadpan comedies as the characters all try to survive this outbreak. It isn’t quite a “zomedy”, but it also isn’t too gory for you to watch with the squeamish types. I don’t know a ton of people who have seen this yet so I’ll go easy on spoiling anything. I want everyone to see this movie, and there’s a better chance of that if I don’t tell you how it ends. But, as Adam Driver’s character repeatedly tells us, “this is going to end badly”.
If you’re looking for Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland you should keep it moving. While The Dead Don’t Die is hilarious, it isn’t slapstick or action-packed. It’s weird even for a Jim Jarmusch movie, and I’ve seen enough of them to know what I’m talking about. But since Jarmusch has said that he doesn’t really like zombies I guess the only zombie movie he’d make would be rather strange. He did say that he’s a big Romero fan, and you can see it everywhere in this movie if you’re paying attention. It’s utterly absurd: Adam Driver knows he’s in a movie, Bill Murray thinks he might be, and Tilda Swinton is a Scottish undertaker/samurai/possible alien(?). Unlike a lot of the IMBD user reviews I read, I don’t think it’s contempt for the audience or trying to be too highbrow artsy. The biggest nod Jarmusch makes to Romero is his use of zombies as social commentary. I’ve always said that I don’t like commentary in my zombie (or any other) horror movies, but I knew this wouldn’t be a normal zombie movie going in. The zombies in Centerville are going to the same places and looking for the same things they craved when they were alive. Zombie Iggy Pop wants coffee, and zombie Carol Kane wants chardonnay. The killing of live humans seems like almost an afterthought to them. The undead mindlessly consume in much the same way that the living do, and even the reason for the outbreak is man-made (something about the Earth going off its axis). This is almost a wry and witty homage to Uncle George, but with that classic Jim Jarmusch touch.
We can’t talk about The Dead Don’t Die without talking about it’s amazing cast. While I’m indifferent to Adam Driver most of the time he’s actually pretty good here. It’s something about his face and voice I think. He sounds like Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs sometimes, and his face is bigger than it has any right to be. He’s just off somehow, but he didn’t bug me in this like he started to by the end of Paterson (another Jarmusch movie). Bill Murray is always great, and he can do deadpan like no one else. I’ve never seen someone who was so dry be so damn funny before or since him. Tom Waits has a small but no less important part, and Tilda Swinton turns out to be funnier than I thought she would be too. Iggy Pop, RZA, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, and Carol Kane really only have cameos or bit parts, but are well used with the time that they get. I just wish we could have gotten a little Coffee and Cigarettes reference from a scene with RZA and Bill Murray. That’s another really funny Jarmusch movie, with one of the particular highlights being a vignette featuring Bill Murray, RZA, and GZA in a diner together. Of course if they’d done that then there would have to be another nod with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits together too. I can see how that would all get too complicated, and self-serving pretty quick. I guess there is a little bit of self-serving what with the 4th wall breaking and Bill Murray calling Jarmusch “a dick” for not giving him the entire script. It’s done with a light touch, and stuff like that only happens a few times so it doesn’t get too over the top.
I don’t understand why this movie has such terrible reviews on IMDB. I scrolled through countless user reviews that called it boring, or slow, or stupid. I’m not all uppity where I think I “get it” or anything when it comes to art. I don’t think this movie was trying to be art. I think Jim Jarmusch had done a few serious movies in a row, and wanted to do something silly again. It’s a lot slower that what you’d expect from a “normal” zombie movie. I don’t get how a user who liked Paterson (a movie about a bus driver who writes poetry in his spare time, and kind of nothing really happens to him) can find this slow. It is meandering, and odd, and certainly takes it’s time getting you where you’re going. The payoff is in humor that is so subtle that you could miss it at times. Other times the wackiness of it bats you upside the head, but the cast has moved on to something else before you’ve really had time to get what just happened. Like most Jarmusch movies I think this one takes multiple viewings to digest everything in its entirety. Of his many movies we only own Dead Man and Coffee and Cigarettes, but The Dead Don’t Die will be making its way into our Jim Jarmusch collection very soon.