The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop, Carol Kane, Tilda Swinton
The latest film from the iconic filmmaker behind the likes of Stranger than Paradise and Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch, and the follow up to the understated poetry-driven drama Paterson (2016), is 2019’s surprise summer comedy The Dead Don’t Die, a zombie apocalypse movie filled to the brim with unique and endearing moments that make this – yes, even this – every bit as Jarmusch as a Jim Jarmusch movie can be expected to be.
Never one to shy away from pushing boundaries and testing the limits of his own abilities, Jarmusch’s move from the quiet exploration of everyday life in Paterson to the madness of an out-of-this-world scenario like the dead rising to eat people in a small, rural American town in The Dead Don’t Die is one that feels as effortless as his career’s other notable twists and turns, the director’s reconnection with previous collaborators Bill Murray (Broken Flowers) and Adam Driver (Paterson) showcasing his unique and timeless ability to present much different characters from the same performers across his own unique output.
The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie comedy and it really is as simple as that. However, unlike some of the sub-genre’s most aggressively horror-leaning or horrendously unfunny inclusions, Jarmusch’s offering is almost limitless in the number of ways it earns a laugh throughout its tight 1 hour 44 minutes runtime and, comedic gore aside, strives to be anything but scary. Whether parodying horror, zombie movies or even cinematic conventions, Jarmusch earns a laugh. Flawless timing (of dialogue, action, story beats), quips and narrative revelations offer even more reason to be bouncing out of your chair. The Dead Don’t Die is a simple zombie comedy, sure, but an incredibly intelligent and utterly rewatchable one at that.
The comedic timing of Driver and Murray is second-to-none as the cop buddy duo at the heart of the film. Their strong chemistry in front of the camera, and a mix of intense genre-trope-driven content and benign conversation in the script, make their every action and word of dialogue an absolute treat, their inherent abilities to push different buttons as some of the very best actors around being placed front and centre for some of the funniest meta moments put to screen in years.
The pacing, some of the brutality, even the choices in support casting – Iggy Pop is one of the first zombies to resurface from the dirt, perhaps as a commentary regarding conformity, while Selena Gomez personifies the female survivor of your typical “road horror” – all push towards the same goal of making a hilarious, though still an incredibly intelligent and critical piece overflowing with political and social commentary; the work screaming the unique vision the director holds of the world, his presentation of our society’s absurdity being as thought provoking as it is undeniably hilarious.
The biggest potential issue this crowd-pleasing, star-driven piece will come across in its pursuit of box office success is that a lot of its commentary (comedic and serious) comes from a place of particularly film-centred, Western reference points, the crux of the movie being Jarmusch’s decoding of an entire genre, comments on political leaders included. However, to those familiar enough with current events, the director’s collaborators, the genre and/or cinema as a whole, The Dead Don’t Die is a laugh-a-minute marathon of absurdity with recognisable actors popping up left, right and centre to keep any dwindling attention span on the right track. This movie won’t go down as the masterpiece of this phenomenal director’s long and respected career, but it will certainly fulfil your inherent need to laugh and perhaps become his most rewatchable entry to date.
Keep an eye out for a truly fantastic Tilda Swinton performance.