It’s pretty dang amazing that The Dead Don’t Die, a movie seemingly made for the smallest fraction of the moviegoing public, exists, let alone it’s going to be given a relatively wide release by a major entertainment conglomerate (Focus owned by Universal owned by Comcast owned by the Lizard People Society that live in Earth’s hollow core). Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy seems almost an elaborate troll as much a movie. The fact that it’s actually a fun, endearing and surprisingly touching film may be the biggest joke of all.
Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker unafraid to stretch against audience expectations. Throughout his lengthy career, Jarmusch has dabbled in arthouse, Westerns, samurais, vampires, poetry, slapstick and more. All the while, though, his films have remained consistently difficult to classify in a single genre. As you might expect, The Dead Don’t Die, Jarmusch’s stab at the zombie movie, is likewise fluid to say the least when it comes to labels.
Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny lead an ensemble cast as a trio of law enforcement officers who find their sleepy little town overrun by zombies. The cast is a who’s who list of previous Jarmusch collaborators. Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, RZA, and Iggy Pop are just a few of the people who Jarmusch brought back. In fact, if I was an actor who had worked with Jarmusch and I wasn’t in the film, I’d be wondering what I did to piss the director off. What did you do, Forest Whitaker? What did you do?
Combining pop culture juggernauts such as zombies and Bill Murray together means that there is no question of whether or not there is an audience out there who will want to see The Dead Don’t Die. The question, though, is whether or not that audience will appreciate what they find. Jarmusch has created a cheeky, droll film that simultaneously parodies and celebrates the zombie genre by way of Ed Wood. This is not The Walking Dead – it’s not even Shaun of the Dead. The Dead Don’t Die is dry, silly and more than a little weird. It’s a film that is not going to be the cup of tea for most modern zombie acolytes. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of zombie carnage out there for the blood and guts crowd but Jarmusch isn’t as interested in gore as he is exploring the storytelling structure of a zombie film. From the science mumbo-jumbo exposition explaining why the zombies have risen (cleverly packaged in a real-life topical environmental message) to the Canada Dry-dry reaction our heroes have to the carnage that surrounds them, this is zombies as a fashion-statement on a typically solid Jarmusch film – not Art House Dawn of the Dead.
Like the undead themselves, Jarmusch has re-animated all the zombie movie themes he could get his hands on – the dead being unable to move beyond the vices they were obsessed with when they were living, humanity’s reaction to unspeakable horror, humanity’s obsession with unspeakable horror (including Donald Trump, via a very funny sight-gag) and audience’s love for a really great movie theme song.
The Dead Don’t Die is a weird, weird movie – full of meta-humor, non-sequiturs, unresolved plotlines, inexplicable cinematic references and, at moments, a willingness to stop the movie dead in its tracks and philosophize about life, death and whatever lies beyond.
If I had to guess, I would imagine a lot of audiences are going to walk out of The Dead Don’t Die upset, frustrated and more than a little confused. But movies like The Dead Don’t Die are important – they are the gateway drugs for new and burgeoning film freaks. Somewhere out there in America, some young movie fan is going to watch The Dead Don’t Die because they like Bill Murray and zombies almost as much as they like Bacon and Bee Movie memes. They are going to sit in a darkened theater and watch as Jim Jarmusch disembowels the conventional zombie movie structure, plays touch football with audience expectations and presents his weird-ass movie to mainstream audiences like a house cat presenting a bird they killed to their horrified owner. That youngster may have entered the theater a future fully-functioning, productive member of society but by-gone-it, they’re going to leave a big ol’ weirdo.
Thank you for creating weirdos with your movies, Jim Jarmusch.