Jim Jarmusch’s latest film “The Dead Don’t Die” is as slow and languid as many of his previous works. Although I have no problem with that at all, the movie feels like a one-joke movie stretched a bit too long, and I found myself getting impatient at times even while appreciating the considerable efforts from its stellar cast and several nice comic moments to remember.
The movie is set in a small, quiet rural American town name Centerville, and its early part introduces us a number of its various residents. At first, we meet the town sheriff played by Bill Murray and his deputy officer played by Adam Driver, and then we also get to know several other substantial characters including 1) a crusty hermit played Tom Waits, 2) an equally cantankerous farmer played by Steven Buscemi, 3) a local hardware store owner played by Danny Glover, 4) a local gas station clerk played by Caleb Landry Jones, 5) another deputy officer by played by Chloë Sevigny, and 6) a new mortician in the town played by Tilda Swinton.
For these and other people in the town, things seem fine as usual on the surface, but it is clear to us from the beginning that something strange is going on in not only their town but also the outside world. Daytime unusually becomes quite long to everyone’s bafflement, and it looks like this odd happening is caused by a big shift in the rotation axis of the Earth, which, according to TV and newspaper reports, is possibly resulted from the extensive hydraulic fracturing in the arctic regions for more energy resource.
Many of town people do not take this big change that seriously, but then we subsequently see a couple of zombies, played Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, slouching toward a local diner during the following night. The movie surely has some gory fun as these two zombies devour fresh human flesh as expected, and then we get a small amusing moment when they show some appreciation to good coffee like Dale Cooper did in TV series “Twin Peaks”.
In the following morning, the sheriff and his deputies are both baffled and shocked by what happened in the diner, and we get a little funny moment as each of them looks at the scene and then flatly utters the same comment. When one of his deputies suggests the possibility of zombie apocalypse, the sheriff does not believe that much at first, but, of course, he and some other characters soon find themselves surrounded by a bunch of zombies, and they should be ready to decapitate any of those rotten walking corpses.
Now you may expect more guts and blood, but the movie still sticks to its dry deadpan mode as before while leisurely sauntering along its loose narrative, and the overall result is rather bloodless despite a number of wryly humorous moments. It goes without saying that the zombies in the film are supposed to be as silly and satiric as George A. Romero’s classic zombie film “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), but the movie is not that fresh or edgy in its satiric approach, and it only reminded me again of how much I have been tired of zombie flicks these days.
At least, I was entertained to some degree by how willingly it goes for more silliness and outrageousness during its second half. For instance, I like the constant utilization of a certain song by Sturgill Simpson throughout the film, and I also enjoyed how a certain line from Driver’s character functions as a nice running gag which is subsequently developed into a sort of meta-joke during the finale.
Above all, Jarmusch assembled a bunch of colorful performers to watch. Murray, who previously collaborated with Jarmusch in several films including “Broken Flowers” (2005), is no stranger to Jarmusch’s deadpan humor at all, and he is effortlessly funny as steadily maintaining his usual phlegmatic mode. Driver, who was simply fabulous in Jarmusch’s previous film “Paterson” (2016), is also solid in his earnest performance, and you will get a small chuckle when the movie throws a brief reference to a certain famous movie franchise he has been recently associated with. While Sevigny, Buscemi, Glover, Jones, Swinton, Waits, and several other notable main cast members including Rosie Perez, RZA, Carol Kane, and Selena Gomez simply fill their respective spots as demanded, they bring each own presence and personality to their supporting characters, and Swinton, who was mesmerizing in Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013), has a series of juicy comic moments as an eccentric Buddhist mortician fully prepared to wield her Samurai sword for killing zombies out there.
On the whole, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a bit too tedious and unfocused for me, and that reminds me again of how some of Jarmusch’s films did not click with me well. While I surely admired “Broken Flowers”, “Only Lovers Left Alive”, and “Paterson”, I did not particularly react that well to “Dead Man” (1995), and I definitely hated “The Limits of Control” (2009), which is still one of the most boring movie experiences I ever had during last 10 years. While not as tepid and pointless as “The Limits of Control”, “The Dead Don’t Die” still dissatisfied me nonetheless, an I was not so surprised when I heard one of the audiences snoozing right behind me. It was a late-night screening, so that was understandable, and, to be frank with you, I also felt drowsy from time to time during that time. Maybe I should revisit the movie someday for a second opinion, but I know for sure that it did not elate me enough when I walked out of the screening room, and that is a shame.