Dead Don't Die review Caleb Landry Jones Donald Glover

Year: 2019
Director(s): Jim Jarmusch
Writer(s): Jim Jarmusch
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Color, 105 mins

Synopsis: The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves. (Source)

For sometime now, zombies have lost their power. From ubiquitous, uninspired tv shows, to films that all feel, look and sound the same, it’s hard to stay interested. Despite that, the symbolism behind the walking dead is as sharp as ever. It’s this fact that Jim Jarmusch understands so keenly, and it’s why The Dead Don’t Die is rapturous, smart fun. Jarmusch isn’t reinventing the wheel, but that’s not the point. With reverence to Romero’s timeless classics, Jarmusch’s latest is a necessary update. He’s created something that looks back at where the genre has come from, and what it now means in the politically divided, socially numb era of Trump. It’s a sharp dissection our times, and a reminder that we can’t kill what’s already dead. 

The story takes place in a sleepy town called Centerville. This is the type of place where everyone knows each other too well. It’s tiny, quaint and as far away from the city as you can get. Much to the surprise of the town’s local law enforcement, things get strange one day when the sun refuses to set and local radio and electronic devices go haywire. Sheriff Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his deputies Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) find themselves in over their heads as the town’s dead begin to reanimate. 

At its core, Jarmusch’s latest blends a crowd-pleasing survival comedy with biting satire. The big draw here will wholly be the eclectic cast, and on that front alone, the film is worth a watch. True to form, Jarmusch has found winning character team-ups, pitting splintered groups of survivors across town and giving each group their own unique flavor. It’s fun just to see these people all interact, and self-aware infinitely meta flourishes keep things unique, quotable, and increasingly unhinged. This is a film in which anything can happen and will, with Jarmusch’s trademark wit and style on full display. You can expect the unexpected, with samurai swords, aliens, hipster potshots and not-so-subtle climate change warnings populating an irresistibly dense film.

Dead Don't Die review Iggy Pop

In terms of the much heralded cast – there’s too many to expand upon, but wow, it’s great to see how Jarmusch plays to everyone’s strengths. The meta aspects give the film an almost DIY feel, as if the film was made by a group of best friends during summer break. Everyone, especially a perpetually blasé Bill Murray is in on the joke while still somehow being sincere. Opposite, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny are nice contrasts to Murray, while Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi and Caleb Landry Jones share some invaluable screen time. Tom Waits is an understated element of chaos, a detached hermit who is experiencing the story from an outsider’s perspective. MVP, however, might be Tilda Swinton’s otherworldly mortician, Zelda – the less I say, the better. All of this adds to an ensemble full of winning performances and cameos that equate to easy charm and smart subversion.

In a lot of ways, The Dead Don’t Die fulfills everything it promises. It’s funny, has something to say, and capitalizes on a deliciously retro atmosphere that doesn’t feel stale or cheap. Jarmusch proves the best person to handle this material, offering a piercing look at the state of the world. You can watch the film on a purely entertaining surface level, but what it says really sticks. Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore the infectious brand of socially aware lunacy that lines every frame.  

SG