If there is one American director working today whose work I generally want to see more of, it’s Jim Jamusch. Most of the movies of his that I’ve seen, I saw when I was in college. The one exception is Paterson. I saw that one back in 2017.
Well, he has a new one out now, a zombie comedy called The Dead Don’t Die. That in and of itself seems like an odd choice for Jamusch. How did it turn out?
Truth be told, the movie is not that good.
Set in the fictional small town of Centerville, the movie follows various characters in and around town as a zombie apocalypse starts. There is something of an explanation given for it involving human misuse of the planet, but that plot point seems to be there for Jamusch to make a satirical point about government spokespeople. The sun is out at odd times, and other weird things keep happening. Most of the action follows police chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver) as they look into the weird. Do they know what to do? Sort of. There are plenty of other small town stock characters to be seen in Centerville, and the majority of them match Murray’s standard deadpan delivery.
That’s probably the biggest weakness to the movie. I’m not sure a deadpan zombie movie works. The action, such as it is, is slow. Few of the characters seem all that concerned with anything going on around them. And if they are, they don’t show much emotion. That fits with Jarmusch’s general comedic sensibilities. But are we meant to sympathize with these characters? My guess is no, but that’s because none of these characters are particularly deep or particularly weird. I’d like more weird. In terms of showing actual emotion, there’s Chloe Sevigny as the town’s other deputy who just can’t handle what’s going on, Steve Buscemi as the cranky, probably racist farmer nobody likes anyway, and Tilda Swinton as the town’s new undertaker, a Scottish samurai.
Actually, Swinton is easily the best part of the movie. Speaking in a thick brogue, the walking dead don’t cause her a lick of concern. She’s fast with her samurai sword, and she’s more of the weird that I would have liked for the movie. Swinton’s Zelda is the type of character who will stop to chat up a zombie before decapitating it, and then just go about her business. Zelda actually seems to be almost enjoying herself. That was a great touch.
And yes, these zombies can talk. What they say isn’t much, and that leads to the movie’s second big weakness. Whatever satirical points Jamusch is trying to make don’t work because I’ve seen them before. As a result, many of his general zombie observations are nothing new as they have been a part of zombie fiction going back decades. And to make matters worse, Jamusch actually has a character, Tom Waits’ cranky observer Hermit Bob, say out-loud what the themes are. I generally expect better from Jamusch because he doesn’t usually make his points so bluntly in a movie where everyone is so self-aware. Unless, of course, pointing out the obvious is the joke. If so, I didn’t find it all that amusing.
Now, there are some genuinely weird touches in the movie’s last act that I found somewhat amusing. But overall, I just didn’t like this one very much. 6.5 out of 10 tall men in small cars.