- 15 Jul 19
Jim Jarmusch zombie flick is all irony - and little else.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Tom Waits. 105 mins. In cinemas now.
Mortality, death and eternal life are not new themes for Jim Jarmusch, whose films Dead Man, Only Lovers Left Alive and Ghost Dog Way Of The Samurai all toyed with these ideas. It was thus inevitable that there would eventually be a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie – one just hoped the pitch might have had more depth and ideas behind it beyond “A Jim Jarmusch Movie”.
The Dead Don’t Die is set in the fictional mid-America town of Centerville, an emblematic microcosm of smalltown USA. There’s a diner, a motel, a morgue, Steve Buscemi in a ‘Keep America White Again’ hat, and laconic cops Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Clifford Robertson (Bill Murray). When a zombie apocalypse breaks out due to extensive fracking knocking the earth off its axis (sure), the town’s reaction is a combination of blasé nonchalance and Jarmusch’s trademark hipster detachment. When confronted with a zombie attack victim, innards disturbingly now very much on the outside, the characters can’t muster up more than a mild “Gross”.
This ironic approach to the zombie genre isn’t new, and can be ripe for comedy – Zombieland, Shaun Of The Dead, Planet Terror et al have all had a similar style. And Jarmusch does have fun with the casting and execution – it’s shot nicely, the soundtrack is gorgeous, Iggy Pop has a silly cameo, and who doesn’t want to see Tilda Swinton play a Scottish mortician samurai?
However, smugness and stunt casting do not a screenplay make. So The Dead Don’t Die isn’t actually funny. Nor scary. Nor meaningful. It’s the definition of self-indulgent, so convinced of its inherent worthiness that there’s barely any material there. A very feeble and inconsistent thread of meta jokes sees actors reveal they know they’re in a film, and know what’s about to happen because “I read the full script”. But these winks, like everything else, never go anywhere, and in a world saturated by ironic, knowing, fourth wall-breaking pop culture, they don’t feel intelligent or new.
Maybe the ambience and irony are enough for diehard Jarmusch fans. But for everyone else, life’s too short.