Question: How does one make yet another movie that deals with the Zombie Apocalypse? Increase the number of zombies? Go for a higher body count? Make it more visually gruesome? Well if you’re writer/director Jim Marmusch you make a movie with an almost art film aesthetic, make it a dry comedy that crosses over into irreverence, and then hire a cast that’s practically all-star caliber.
Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his partner Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) are on their regular patrol through the tiny town of Centerville, but they notice that something is odd. The sun stays up far too long and none of their watches work. Officer Peterson even observes that after charging his phone up to full capacity it is now dead. When they use the police radio it too breaks down. In fact all form of broadcast signal is disrupted. It isn’t until they see a news story about polar frakking that a scientific report comes out that the Earth has actually shifted its axes. This would be a big enough problem for people to deal with, only there is one last problem everyone has to face. The dead are now re-animated and they are attacking every living person on sight.
To say anymore would give away what has got to be a film that is either a work of deranged genius, or simply deranged. Writer/director Jarmusch has a reputation for producing work that doesn’t exactly toe the mainstream line, and this film is no exception. From the moment we hear the theme song of the same title by Sturgill Simpson we are already seeing this film telegraph its intent. It starts off slowly with only a rather peculiar reference, but as the film progresses those moments that set it apart start coming in faster and with a bit more intensity until we are left with a moment in the final act that literally had everyone in the theater find their mouths hanging open in disbelief.
The cast in this film is amazing, starting with the always incredible Bill Murray. Despite his long career this film shows how he has not slowed down in the slightest. His dry delivery that has become practically a trademark of his shines with each scene he’s in. Now the big surprise comes in the form of Adam Driver. Playing Murray’s police partner we see Driver share virtually every scene with Murray that gives some of the most incredible dialogue anywhere. In fact, Driver is probably the first actor ever to “out dry deliver” the likes of Bill Murray. This creates for some of the most bizarre conversations to take place between the two of them, all the while with humor so incredibly dry that you would use it as a flotation device in the event of a water landing. There are some other amazing actors in this film, including Danny Glover, Carol Kane, Tom Waits, and Steve Buscemi. However, the standout in all of those is Tilda Swinton as Zelda Winston, the young Scottish woman who happens to not only be a Samurai, but she’s also the town mortician, so when she’s not moving about with her Samurai sword she’s busy doing some of the most unreal makeup work on the recently deceased before their individual funerals. Her role is unlike anything I have ever seen her in, which shows once more the range that Swinton has as an actor.
The Dead Don’t Die is without question one of the most original films I have ever seen come out of the comedy/horror genre, and while I have absolutely no love for Zombie movies at all, Jarmusch’s treatment of them gives them a slight bit of originality, but only slightly. Even the ending of this film is unusual. Just when I thought the film would go one way, Jarmusch instead takes it into the worst possible direction for an ending, but through the use of a monologue coming from an observer in the film, who witnesses all of this, delivers something of a moral that gives this film the perfect ending, and by giving it the perfect ending Jarmusch was essentially able to deliver the near perfect film. Except for a few moments in the second act that somewhat slowed the film down, this horror movie can practically be thought of as an almost art film. It is beautifully shot, has the most incredible cast in Murray, Driver, and Swinton, and has a score that hearkens back to some of the independent horror films of both yesterday and today, giving it a somewhat atmospheric minimalism that perfectly compliments with how the scenes are acted and directed.
For only having that small pacing flaw, I give The Dead Don’t Die 4.5 out of 5 decapitated heads!
The Dead Don’t Die opens June 14 2019.