The repeated use of the word “ghouls” spoken by Adam Driver is worth the price of admission alone in Jim Jarmusch’s delightfully bent tale of the zombie apocalypse. The Dead Don’t Die is a satire that intends to approach our impending doom with an air of disbelief; like the unimaginably strange coincidence that The Simpsons predicted the Trump Presidency.
Welcome to “Centreville” - the middle American everyplace that feels assembled from the greatest hits of every great zombie caper every made. Creepy street straddling motels, gas stations with hand made signs and horror movie geek memorabilia, a centre for disturbed children (or at least that’s what we assume from their jumpsuit’s marked CDC) guarded by burly bald guards and a sprawling cemetery that spills into a thick wood that encompasses and dwarfs the town. You know, the perfect ingredients for a tiny town that’s about to be obliterated from the map.
By the time we’re in Centreville here strange things are already happening. The pattern of the days have shifted, clocks and technology have started to malfunction and we’re hearing messages from an energy minister that the fracking at the polar caps is most definitely not responsible for the world potentially slipping off of its axis, altering gravity, mutating the biosphere, oh and causing the dead to rise from their graves. Tom Waits’ Hermit Bob is the film’s omniscient hobo, observing the phenomena and commentating the town’s demise.
Jarmusch uses comedic repetition like Tilda Swinton’s town undertaker Zelda Winston wielding a katana; and by that I mean like a fucking doctor. Firstly Jarmusch using a singular theme of the film is the eponymously titled “The Dead Don’t Die,” by Sturgill Simpson (who appears as his zombie self) is playing multiple times to ludicrous effect. Almost immediately after the opening credits it plays in the police car of Bill Murray’s Chief Cliff and Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie. When it plays Murray asks Driver what the song is and he names it and clarifies that it’s the theme of the movie. It’s the perfect opportunity for the characters to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience, but Jarmusch exercises restraint. They chart the course between cute and too cute; which is choosing when and how to emphasise the winks to the audience. In a sequence when Danny Glover’s Hank Thompson discovers the bodies of two town folks attacked by the first small zombie wave (which included the already zombie-ish Iggy Pop) Glover, Murray, Driver and Chloë Sevigny all essentially propose identically the same wild animal scenario.
The Jarmusch touch means that the genre gets a refreshing stillness.The Sahara dry interplay between Murray and Driver only increased my estimation of the extremely talented young man behind Kylo Ren. If you can stay on the same comedic frequency as a maestro like Murray, you’re doing a lot right. Swinton embraces her ability to function on a different plane and delivers a wonderful, thick accented, delightfully odd Scottish undertaker. There’s a cavalcade of cameos from Jarmusch regulars, relishing the undead make-up.
While The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t ascend to the same profound heights of Jarmusch’s last undead masterpiece Only Lover’s Left Alive; it’s a real fun place to hang and watch the world burn.
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