I went to see the latest Jim Jarmusch film, “The Dead Don’t Die” recently. To be honest, zombies aren’t really my thing. However, I was highly impressed with Jarmusch’s moody, dream-like vampire film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and wanted to see what he could do with the mindless undead. I had been thoroughly captivated by the previews, which made the film look like it was as much a comedy as a horror show. Here’s a link to the official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs5ZOcU6Bnw
I have to admit I was disappointed in this film. It seemed to have a bunch of great ideas and more than a few good lines, but Jarmusch’s script spent too little time weaving them together, instead throwing them all in a pot and hoping the different elements would blend on their own.
The initial premise of the film is that “Polar Fracking” has caused the earth to tilt off its axis, causing daytime and nighttime hours to become almost indistinguishable from each other. It’s a big stretch, and while it may sound plausible before any conscious thought takes place, the reality is that it came across to me as a lame excuse for A) the cause of the zombie outbreak, and B) having nighttime scenes shot in daylight.
The film is remarkably inconsistent. The perfect example is Tilda Swinton’s Character, Zelda Winston. She runs the local mortuary, is new to town and is one of the first to discover the zombie situation. First, she has a Scottish accent, is a devout Buddhist, and wields a katana. Second, we learn toward the end of the film that ***BIG SPOILER ALERT*** she’s an alien, which makes the previous set of characteristics seem pretty contrived. Okay, fine. Trouble is, in one scene she walks stiffly and very precisely, automaton-like, but that’s the only scene in the film where she behaves this way, and it’s highly distracting. Her language is also inconsistent, very stiffly and formally referring to people by their full names and titles, but otherwise conversationally she seems natural and extremely human.
The film makes a few attempts at self-referential humor, including Adam Driver’s character’s schtick of declaring that “…this isn’t going to end well.” At the very end, his boss, Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) demands to know how he knew that. “Well, I read the script.” Driver (as Officer Ronnie Peterson) replies. Amusing. Also kinda implies that no-one else did. Hmmm…
The cast list is amazing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8695030/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast Besides Swinton, Murray, and Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Iggy Pop, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Tom Waits, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, and more. Sadly, most of them are just there to die, without much explanation, reason, or even character development– par for the course in a zombie film, but then making a big deal of their participation in the film seems counter-productive. The vast majority of talent in this film is shamefully wasted. Tom Waits’ hermit character is used as a narrator from time to time, and the half-assed philosophical speech he is forced to deliver toward the film’s end did as much to spoil this movie for me as anything else did.
I really WANTED to like this film, but in the final analysis, there was too much wrong with it for me to call it a gem. In truth, it isn’t awful: it has problems and seems far too amateurish for someone who’s written and directed almost 30 films, particularly when many of them have seemed painstakingly crafted–which The Dead Don’t Die very clearly was not. It may not be great, but if you’re into zombie films and you can turn your brain off and let the film flow over you, you’ll probably enjoy it.