Jim Jarmusch returns with his Cannes-opening horror comedy in which zombies rise to eat the living of the small town of Centerville. Joining police officers Adam Driver and Chlöe Sevigny are a rollcall of Jarmusch regulars: Bill Murray is police chief Cliff Robertson, Tom Waits is semi-narrator Hermit Bob, RZA plays Wu-PS (get it?) delivery driver Dean, Iggy Pop is among the undead and Tilda Swinton is the enigmatic samurai sword-wielding Scottish mortician, Zelda. Don’t ask. And thank the stars for Tilda: from her otherworldly walk to the way she interacts with the newly risen, she saves the day. Because the rest of the film doesn’t have much brains, and its bite ain’t that great either.
Considering the reanimation is due to climate change (the earth spinning off its axis due to polar fracking, to be precise), The Dead Don’t Die frequently tries its hand at being a not-so-subtle allegory about the ills of consumerism and capitalism. But this is old news, as the zombie genre has a George A. Romero-shaped propensity for social commentary, specifically when it comes to political satire and consumerism-bashing. Some might argue that this is Jarmusch’s cheeky homage to Romero, but it’s been done to death, and this (un)deadpan B-movie barely scrapes by.
The key takeaway (quite aside from how much this is an almighty waste of a stellar cast) is how tiresomely insistent The Dead Don’t Die is when it comes to fourth-wall-breaking and self-congratulatory meta gags. This includes the ubiquitous tunes of Sturgill Simpson and the smirky namechecking of Jarmusch as the cinematic puppeteer who knows how it’s all going to end because he’s got the script. It’s all self-referential to the point of embarrassment, and when Bill Murray chucks Sturgill Simpson’s CD out the car window, frustrated at having to hear “the theme song” over and over again, yelling “Goddamn it, I can’t take it anymore,” you’ll most likely be harbouring similar thoughts about the film as a whole
The Dead Don’t Die | Directed by Jim Jarmusch (US, 2019), with Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chlöe Sevigny, Tom Waits. Starts June 13.
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