The Dead Don’t Die thinks it’s the smartest zombie movie in the room, but it lacks the brains or guts to be anything more than a decent premise done in by an undercooked script and weird performances.
If there’s one prerequisite of any zombie movie be it Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland or even the weakest Resident Evil installments is it can’t be boring. With flesh eating monsters finding ways to make that dull is actually more of a challenge.
Director/Screenwriter Jim Jarmusch (Paterson) very slowly asks audiences to hold his alcoholic beverage of choice to show that yes indeed it is possible to make a lifeless zombie film. Even with a cast including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi and RZA. While accomplishing that feat is impressive it doesn’t make for a fun movie.
Typically with a zombie movie, within the first 15 or 20 minutes somebody has turned into an undead buffet. Jarmusch goes the opposite route and spends an exorbitant amount of time introducing a slew of quirky characters in a small town. Murray and Driver play two police officers casually making the rounds where the greatest crimes are chicken thefts. The film is nearly an hour in before the zombies really start to become a problem.
There’s a cursory explanation as to why the undead are starting to rise, but even that’s inconsistent as one night just two zombies are awakened and the next a whole small graveyard unleashes its dead. The film is filled with nonsensical moments like this that could work if Jarmusch was just making a goofy horror film that doesn’t need to play by any rules.
Instead, he’s concocted a meta film that’s in on the joke it’s a zombie flick. It’s just too bad Jarmusch is so busy winking at the audience to flesh out the film as either a comedy or a relentless action thriller. The Dead Don’t Die could have gone either way, but Jarmusch is too noncommittal to settle on a direction. This leads to some awkwardly humorous moments followed by repetitive and slow story progression.
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Jarmusch’s script isn’t as smart as he thinks it is whether a character knowing the resolution of everything or a running joke about the film’s theme that’s harder to kill than any zombie. Too often it seems like Jarmusch didn’t just give his performers little direction, but a barebones script and encouraged his cast to improv. This could have been fun if the cast didn’t deliver their lines in such a deadpan and less than enthused manner. There’s too much talent involved for Jarmusch to blow all of his favors here, but no one seems especially thrilled about working on the film.
Despite such a lengthy setup, it’s hard to get invested in any of the characters. There’s a hint that Driver’s character is interested in fellow officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), but that goes nowhere. Ditto for a subplot involving three juvenile delinquents watching the events unfold from their center. Their characters literally run off the screen with no payoff.
Easily the most frustrating character is Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, The Old Man & the Gun), who lives in the woods and casually watches all the chaos spewing some would be deep philosophy that’s hard to take seriously from a character who looks like a grown up Teen Wolf.
Maybe the film could have been a lot more bearable if the run time was shorter, but clocking in close to two hours makes this a chore especially once the realization comes that Jarmusch can’t deliver on anything he set up.
Don’t waste the effort giving this one a double tap, just keep on moving and let this slow moving zombie film decompose all on its own.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Photo Credit: Focus Features