Sadly, the idea of The Dead Don’t Die is better than the movie itself.
The Dead Don’t Die is a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Tilda Swinton among many others, which is among the most exciting genre ideas in recent memory. A great filmmaker who doesn’t regularly dabble in genre (though Only Lovers Left Alive showed he could do so with great success), plus that incredible cast?
All the ingredients were there for something truly special. Unfortunately, the end result doesn’t reach those lofty expectations. The Dead Don’t Die is a muddled film filled with half-formed ideas, sporadic humour, and a fairly derivative take on the zombie genre. To an extent, it gets by on the charm and talent of its actors, but overall, the good doesn’t outweigh the bad.
In the film, Murray and Driver play two small-town police officers who start to see strange things happening one day. With the help of their colleague, played by Chloë Sevigny, they begin to investigate, only to come to a conclusion they seemingly already knew. Zombies are rising from graves. As the police go around town, they interact with a slew of townsfolk played by well-known faces, including Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, RZA, and Iggy Pop. All of them are basically there to chew the scenery for a few minutes, without amounting to much.
Everything is driven by Murray and Driver, though, who curiously both turn in what appear to be intentionally apathetic performances. Each is as dry as dry can be—which, at times, can lead to some huge laughs. (I’m still chuckling at the mere thought of Driver’s character pulling up to a crime scene in a tiny Smart car.) But having dry main characters also drags the film down considerably. The whole film feels apathetic about itself, like no one really even wants to be there. And that lack of energy feels completely at odds with a movie involving zombies eating people.
Then, at a certain point, that apathy goes from being a liability to an asset. It begins to distinguish The Dead Don’t Die from a billion other zombie films out there. You start to think Jarmusch has something suitable and unique planned, and that anticipation makes all the low-key plot unfolding increasingly intriguing. Where could this all be going? What’s the film going to say to make it stand out? So when the film hits you with a few hugely surprising weird moments, you’re ready to shower it with praise.
However, when all is said and done, none of that means anything. The Dead Don’t Die ultimately reveals itself to be a zombie film that’s almost exactly like every other zombie film. It’s a metaphor for humanity. A film where zombies are there to provide commentary on the nature of capitalism, greed, and consumerism. Even those standout oddball scenes in the third act don’t feel quite as funny or weird when you realise they’re thematically pointless. They merely work to further confuse a film that ultimately doesn’t have much to say anyway.
From this filmmaker, with this cast, and in this genre, The Dead Don’t Die is a disappointment. You can imagine, eventually, it’s one of those films that will find fans who revel in its downtrodden pacing, dry humour, and random meta-asides, even if all of those elements feel at odds with each other. But that’ll be a small minority.
For most people, The Dead Don’t Die will be just another mostly forgettable zombie film in an increasingly robust genre.
The Dead Don’t Die opens October 24.