FOCUS FEATURES (2019)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Austin Butler, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits
Jarmusch. Murray. Driver. Sevigny. Swinton.
What a cool line up. Pure cool. Venkman. Ren. Dr Lowe. Ancient One. At the head of this is Jim Jarmusch, back with another dose of irreverent satire and offbeat storytelling in the form of zombie flick The Dead Don’t Die. Yes, zombie flick! Jarmusch had turned his hand to most genres so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the undead get the call this time and, in approaching this effort, he has assembled a fine cast of major players and majorly supporting characters.
The premise is pretty simple, a small American town is overrun by zombies and the undead after polar fracking knocks the Earth from its natural axis. Now, going into a Jarmusch movie, there are certain things you should expect (see above) so to expect a standard zombie flick would be frankly ridiculous. The leanings on Romero and the undead flicks of old are there for all to see but this is a distinctly different affair altogether. Never one to shy away from political and social satire as well as a hovering sense of self-awareness/congratulating, Jarmusch lays it on thick in The Dead Don’t Die…a little too thick. The social commentary is happily on the nose – zombies roaming the streets after their main addiction which usually revolves around WiFi, coffee and mobile phones – but the winking at the camera becomes frustrating by the end of the movie with Driver’s character alluding to the conclusion early on and never letting up. There’s fourth wall breaking and then there’s misjudged storytelling - at times, it begins to feel like Jarmusch is yelling “Look! I’m making a zombie movie! LOL”.
The movie itself, however, is fine. It’s enjoyable for the majority of its runtime and Driver and Murray’s deadpan approach as Officer Ronnie Peterson and Chief Cliff Robertson respectively is fabulous, the two striking up a great chemistry and Sevigny too is solid as the third member of the team. The strong supporting cast (including a MAGA-loving Steve Buscemi, a samurai Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez) all add a little something each to the movie and Tom Waits narration as Hermit Bob delivers the most memorable moments of the movie – save for a strangely awesome cameo from Iggy Pop. The performances are all on point and visually the movie broods like the classic zombie movies of old, Jarmusch carefully allows the atmosphere to build to its crescendo even during the sillier, self-aware moments – but the self-congratulatory tone prevents the ability to really get drawn in. It’s all bit…light on real content. The inventive kills are fun to watch, though, and Driver gets to have some Star Wars-based fun as well at times.
Jarmusch can never be accused of not branching out and being ready to experiment. His career is littered with successes (and the odd failure too) but The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t sit easily in either camp. It’s just OK. It’s enjoyable enough but the constant winking at the camera is ultimately a hindrance to the movie. It’s certainly not as accomplished as Only Lovers Left Alive or as wonderful as Paterson – it’s just a pretty good movie overall.
July 1st 2019