A meta romp through a bone-dry zom-com with an eco message.
IMDB Synopsis: The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
There aren’t many genres of film and television that have the audience fatigue of zombies. A pop culture mainstay since Romero in the late ’60s, the genre was reborn in the twenty-aughts, but the audiences have grown weary after the nth season of The Walking Dead, zombie gore like Overlord, and apocalyptic high school musicals like Anna and the Apocalypse (which is good). But luckily, auteur director Jim Jarmusch‘s The Dead Don’t Die brings a certain angle to the genre, which has been, ahem, starved for new blood in recent years.
The film is set in the small town of Centerville—a rural backwater of everyday America—where we immediately meet our protagonists: Grumpy Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and stoic Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver). They must uncover what’s causing the mysterious deaths occurring in the sleepy burgh. Not exactly original territory, but the way they tread on the well worn is funny, dry and meta. “I’m thinking zombies,” Adam Driver’s character deadpans when asked about his theory. “You know, the Undead. Ghouls.” That line sets the tone for the film.
As the undead threat worsens and the body count rises (including a seductive Selena Gomez, a kindly Danny Glover, and ornery/racist Steve Buscemi), our protagonists don’t seem to panic, maybe because they know they’re doomed. It’s a zombie movie, after all. And that’s where the movie has fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously, its characters are in on the joke, and while it’s a bit disjointed at times, the movie knows that a good zombie flick is supposed to be fun and a little irreverent.
Lastly, the movie is clearly an allegory for consumerism, rather over-consumerism. Not surprising, as all zombie movies are allegories for something (World War Z is an ecological parable; One Cut Left For The Dead is about art vs. commerce; 28 Days Later is about the state of the human condition). This is where the movie is the clunkiest and a little heavy handed. But I don’t hold it against the film. Jarmusch had a message, and it was received loud and clear.
Highlights: The wonderful cast and the dry dialogue. Everyone buys in. From the airy yet steeled Selena Gomez to the very weird Tilda Swinton to an anxious Chloë Sevigny to the Iggy Pop zombie.
MVP: Adam Driver. He’s one of our generation’s best actors and doesn’t phone it in for this small movie. He’s worked with Gilliam, Baumbach, Abrams, Spike Lee, and Scott Z. Burns on very serious, very lauded films in the last two years. He just gets to have fun here and it shows.
Should you see it: It’s probably not for everyone, but give it a shot! 7.5/10.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Studio: Focus // Original release date: June 14, 2019