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Review: The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Premise: A small town is besieged by zombies. Local police officers struggle to help the citizens.

What Works: The Dead Don’t Die is full of kooky characters and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch gives his cast opportunities to dig into their roles. Bill Murray and Adam Driver are amusing as a pair of overwhelmed police officers and they capitalize on Jarmusch’s deadpan sense of humor. Also notable are Tom Waits as a hermit and Tilda Swinton as a mortician. If nothing else, The Dead Don’t Die is committed to its absurdist style. There is a principle in comedy about repetition; if a joke is repeated once, it usually isn’t funny but if that joke is repeated often enough it eventually becomes funny again, maybe even funnier than it was the first time around. That principle is at work in The Dead Don’t Die and viewers on board with the film’s style will find this funny. Jarmusch also demonstrates a knowledge of and affection for zombie films and the horror genre in general. The Dead Don’t Die is full of references to these sorts of movies and horror fans ought to enjoy spotting the references.  

What Doesn’t: Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker with a singular sensibility. His movies, which include Stranger Than Paradise, Broken Flowers, and Only Lovers Left Alive, are not so much about plot and narrative but about tone and character. As a result, Jarmusch’s films appeal to a narrow audience; The Dead Don’t Die isn’t going to play for the mainstream audience of Zombieland and even George A. Romero fans may find this movie too aloof. But fans of Jarmusch have to admit that The Dead Don’t Die is kooky for its own sake and the movie’s deliberate awkwardness is not funny or interesting enough. The deadpan sense of humor pays off in a few moments but not nearly often enough and it occasionally descends into obnoxiousness. Jarmusch attempts some avant-garde self-awareness but there’s no point or payoff to it. If The Dead Don’t Die intends to be some kind of meta-commentary on the zombie film, it fails at that because the filmmakers don’t have anything to say. The movie is full of allusions to zombie pictures, especially George A. Romero’s classic Living Dead series, but the references are an end in themselves; there’s nothing deeper to them and The Dead Don’t Die does not do anything interesting or original with the zombie film. The picture is slack and low energy and The Dead Don’t Die feels much longer than its 104 minute length. The scenes are all oddly disconnected from each other. The movie is just a bunch of random events. There’s no dramatic escalation. That appears to be Jarmusch’s point – we’re doomed and our lives are as empty and purposeless as the undead. But that’s nothing new to the zombie genre. Nihilism has been a part of the zombie film since the beginning and the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead got there decades ago and with more style.  

Bottom Line: The Dead Don’t Die is a disappointingly uninspired riff on the zombie genre. The actors acquit themselves but this film is inert and half baked.

Episode: #754 (June 23, 2019)