The Dead Don’t Die
by Hope Madden
Indie god and native Ohioan Jim Jarmusch made a zombie movie.
If you don’t know the filmmaker (Down by Law, Ghost Dog, Only Lovers Left Alive, Paterson and so many more jewels), you might only have noticed this cast and wondered what would have drawn Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, RZA, Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez to a zombie movie.
It’s because Jim Jarmusch made it.
Jarmusch is an auteur of peculiar vision, and his latest, The Dead Don’t Die, with its insanely magnificent cast and its remarkably marketable concept, is the first ever in his nearly 30 years behind the camera to receive a national release.
Not everybody is going to love it, but it will attain cult status faster than any other Jarmusch film, and that’s saying something.
He sets his zombie epidemic in Centerville, Pennsylvania (Romero territory). It’s a small town with just a trio of local police, a gas station/comic book store, one motel (run by Larry Fassenden, first-time Jarmusch actor, longtime horror staple), one diner, and one funeral home, the Ever After.
Newscaster Posie Juarez (Rosie Perez – nice!) informs of the unusual animal behavior, discusses the “polar fracking” issue that’s sent the earth off its rotation, and notes that the recent deaths appear to be caused by a wild animal. Maybe multiple wild animals.
The film never loses its deadpan humor or its sleepy, small town pace, which is one of its greatest charms. Another is the string of in-jokes that horror fans will revisit with countless re-viewings.
But let’s be honest, the cast is the thing. Murray and Driver’s onscreen chemistry is a joy. In fact, Murray’s onscreen chemistry with everyone—Sevigny, Swinton, Glover, even Carol Kane, who’s dead the entire film—delivers the tender heart of the movie.
Driver out-deadpans everyone in the film with comedic delivery I honestly did not know he could muster. Landry Jones also shines, as does The Tilda. (Why can’t she be in every movie?)
And as the film moseys toward its finale, which Driver’s Officer Ronnie Paterson believes won’t end well, you realize this is probably not the hardest Jim Jarmusch and crew have ever worked. Not that the revelation diminishes the fun one iota.
Though it’s tempting to see this narrative as some kind of metaphor for our current global political dystopia, in fairness, it’s more of a mildly cynical love letter to horror and populist entertainment.
Mainly, it’s a low-key laugh riot, an in-joke that feels inclusive and the most quotable movie of the year.