More so than any other Jim Jarmusch film that I?ve seen, I legitimately feel like what audiences will get out of The Dead Don?t Die will depend entirely on their opinion of him as a filmmaker. If you?ve never seen a Jim Jarmusch film before, this may not be your best introduction. The pacing is slow, the humor is deadpan to a fault, and the film tells more than it shows. That last point can be frustrating at times depending on your expectations. With a few exceptions here and there, zombie horror as a subgenre has always served as a means of examining society and culture. Unfortunately, The Dead Don?t Die doesn?t seem to have enough trust in its audience to get the message, offering up complete monologues that lay out everything that we could have easily figured out for ourselves.
As a comedy, The Dead Don?t Die can be somewhat sporadic. A handful of moments are legitimately too goofy, even when factoring in the tone of the film. Caleb Landry Jones? character, Bobby Wiggins, encountering out-of-towner Zoe, played by Selena Gomez, and envisioning a crown of sparkles materializing around her head is a prime example. The film does shine, however, with small self-referential beats, like Rosie Perez as a news reporter named ?Posie Juarez?, and the RZA who plays a delivery man who works for ?WU-PS? Shipping. Elements like this are silly, but I suspect this is done deliberately, as it plays into a larger theme within the film. One element in particular that the film draws more attention to than one might expect, is the country song that bears the film?s name, ?The Dead Don?t Die? by Sturgill Simpson. Ronnie, especially, has an affinity for the song that Cliff finds utterly confounding, and it makes for some of the films best comedic moments.
It helps that The Dead Don?t Die features a stable of Jarmusch regulars, including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, and Steve Buscemi, in addition to Danny Glover, The RZA, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, and Carol Kane. Kane is easily my favorite zombie in the movie, who even in death, can?t stop craving chardonnay, repeating the word upon her resurrection. Of course Bill Murray and Adam Driver as Cliff and Ronnie respectively have the meatiest roles in the film (pun intended), and they have such great chemistry together as the ?grizzled old man and the young rookie? trope plays out rather smoothly. Their quiet conversations as they drive through town are awkward, yet profoundly relatable. Once the zombies start to rise, their chemistry as partners only gets stronger, even if they still handle the onslaught of the undead in hilariously mundane fashion. However, if there is one character that I actively disliked in the film, it would probably be Officer Mindy Morrison, played by Chloe Sevigny. As the film progresses, she becomes the stereotypical hysterical female played to the extreme, and it just feels like a waste of her talent as an actress.
As for the horror of The Dead Don?t Die, there isn?t particularly anything in the film that?s legitimately scary, per se. The trippy doom-rock soundtrack definitely sets an ominous tone, and the violence and gore are appropriately graphic without being gratuitous. Special credit to the sound designers on the film, because the sounds of the zombies chewing on flesh is admittedly, quite unsettling. One of the things that I actually loved was that the film establishes that cutting off a person?s head, living or dead, in one blow, is an incredibly hard thing to do. I also liked the visual of the zombies? injuries and decapitations being punctuated by black dust from the wounds.
A major plus for The Dead Don?t Die though, is how it sets up a lot of classic horror movie cliches and tropes, before making the conscious decision not to follow through with almost any of them. The film cleverly pushes you in several directions as to where the story is going to go, but thankfully sidesteps a lot of those tropes. Jarmusch understands these cliches, knows how frustrating it can be for audiences to see them play out in one horror movie after the other. Jarmusch, however, understands that there is still an emotional investment in seeing those cliches play out, but he wants audiences to get as far ahead as possible, just before he pulls the rug out from under them.
The Dead Don?t Die certainly isn?t for everyone. It?s too quirky for its own good, and the slow pacing may leave a good deal of moviegoers frustratingly waiting for any real action to happen. However, it?s also a film that?s quintessentially Jim Jarmusch. The quirks, the deadpan characters, and the music all come together to create something that feels earnest and tangible. It doesn?t always work, but the positives outweigh the negatives for the most part. Tilda Swinton as a Scottish katana-wielding mortician definitely didn?t hurt!
[3 out of 5]