Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits
Genre: Comedy / Horror
The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves, with the two of the town’s policeman (Murray and Driver) armed with just their dry humour and household weaponry to fight them off.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Jim Jarmusch is a true auteur that makes films his way, and I am a subscriber to the opinion shared by many other critics and film fans; it is better to see a film fail on its own terms trying to do its own thing then a film just play it safe. However, if that said ‘own terms’ of that said film fail on an incredibly miserable level that it is impossible for any credit to be granted to that film or the filmmaker, then I will happily make that point too.
Unfortunately, The Dead Don’t Die very much falls into that category; it is smug, self-indulgent tripe of the highest order, and I would implore anyone yet to see it to avoid this film at all costs, and go and find a wall that has just been painted (creosoted is also just as good), and just sit there calmly and watch that paint dry, as it will prove more interesting and rewarding (and definitely less frustrating) than watching The Dead Don’t Die.
As much as I am partial to the occasional rant, It gives me no pleasure in saying this (honest), as Jim Jarmusch’s last two films Paterson (review) and Only Lovers Left Alive (review) were in my personal top 10s for those respective years, as they contained genuinely interesting and engaging characters within a slightly unconventional and minimal narrative, and also within those narratives were some universal themes and ideas that I found I could really relate to. However, The Dead Don’t Die is a return to the self-righteous, lazy self-indulgence of Coffee and Cigarettes in that what Jarmusch is trying to do (though ‘trying’ seems to be a very generous word) fails on an incredibly miserable level.
Though the zombie based horror-comedy now feels as old and decrepit as the rotting flesh of an actual zombie, there is always room to bring something new to this well-worn genre, and the initial concept of The Dead Don’t Die is great; a good cast combined with Jarmusch’s often quite dry and witty take on the world sounds like a film that will be good fun. Indeed, the trailer is also quite good, with some amusing and extremely deadpan moments. Even the film itself starts off okay, with some initially quite dry and witty moments as Bill Murray and Adam Driver’s local policeman are introduced to us patrolling their local town and talking five times slower than the average human being.
We are then introduced to various residents of the small town (played by the likes of Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton and Caleb Landry Jones) as well as a character that lives in the woods (Tom Waits essentially playing himself) and some youngsters from out of town (including Selena Gomez) turn up. Again, there are some mildly amusing moments as the film settles into an admittedly slow pace. However, that is fine as it obviously very deadpan, so a slow a pace is inevitable, but there is going to be a certain zombie invasion, so it is fair to assume that Jarmusch is probably just setting the scene before the film gets going.
Then as Murray and Driver’s characters are driving along they put on the radio and the song played over the opening credits comes on (‘The Dead Don’t Die’ by Sturgill Simpson) and Driver’s character states in a deadpan, matter-of-fact way that it is the ‘theme song’. That seems a bit odd, but is obviously just Jarmusch being a bit odd, and perhaps poking fun at someone or something, but that is okay, we can go with this.
However, for the next 90 minutes the film never actually gets going, and though a slow pace is fine as it fits with the deadpan tone, it is actually so painfully slow that if it is basically stagnant. The film is not only painfully dull, but also the ‘attempts’ at humour feel lazy. So far, the film is not funny or entertaining, it’s just boring.
However, things get even worse, as it seems Jarmusch is not content with boring the audience to death (there is probably a pun in there somewhere), but also insulting them; Driver’s character talking about the theme song proves to be just the tip of the iceberg as in various scenes (and I will of course refrain from spoilers) he carries on with the occasional random moment of breaking the fourth wall. This can of course be a very effective and amusing screenwriting technique, but in The Dead Don’t Die it fails to work on such an excruciatingly severe level that it is painful viewing and just feels self-indulgent on the part of Jarmusch. Likewise, there are some strange narrative developments of which the only logical explanation for their inclusion is that Jarmusch was in a bad mood that day and decided he hates all film fans, as these said developments are so inexplicable that they are just irritating. Oh, and remember Tom Waits’ character? Well, Jarmusch uses him to give the occasional speech arguing that as human’ are all so materialistic these days that we are all actual zombies (a point I agree with when walking through my local high street and every person walking along is staring mindlessly at their phones), but the way it is done is so lazy and cheap. Likewise, Jarmusch tries to make the occasional pollical point, including the reason why the zombies start rising from the earth, but it just feels lazy and hateful. I suppose credit has to given for Jarmusch for consistency at least! I am all for a film being cynical or satirical (in fact, I often embrace it), but Jarmusch goes about this completely the wrong way here.
As the film comes to its ‘crescendo’ and the town is ravaged with zombies and all that is left is our main characters and the inevitable final battle, it is actually impossible to care what happens and just want the whole painful, viewing experience to come to an end, and it feels that the individual making the film appears to feel exactly the same way. Indeed, The Dead Don’t Die ultimately feels like the film that hates films and film fans alike, and so should be avoided at all costs.
A film with an initial great concept, a decent trailer and even a solid (if very, very slow) start, however The Dead Don’t Die descends into something quite hideous; a film that is so smug, self-indulgent and intentionally boring and narratively non-sensical that it borders on hateful for those that love film. Jim was obviously in a very bad mood when he made this.