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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.20.19] zombies horror comedy cult

With a sense of arch ironic detachment that would make Wes Anderson blush, indie auteur Jim Jarmusch has decided to tackle the genre of the zom-com. Given that Shaun of the Dead was released fifteen years ago (itself terrifying to consider) and Zombieland ten years ago (and to say nothing of 1985's Return of the Living Dead) one might consider Jarmusch rather late to the party. What can be done with a zombie comedy that hasn't already been tried before? Well, arch ironic detachment I suppose.

That is not to say that that The Dead Don't Die is a bad film - it has a tremendous cast, some genuinely funny gags, and manages to evoke the spirit of Romero at several points - but it does feel curiously disinterested in its subject and suffers for this. Occasionally we feel like the joke is on us.

Bill Murray and Adam Driver play two cops in the rural town of Centerville who's day-to-day life consists of tracking down chicken thieves and eating donuts at the local diner. Struck by curious environmental anomalies (the moon becomes enormous and unusually luminous while the sun refuses to set at night) following the government's disastrous polar fracking project, they soon realise that the dead are rising from their graves to eat the flesh of the living. "I think we're dealing with zombies here," muses Driver. Murray shrugs, "Yeah, I guess so."

Part of me enjoyed the laid-back, slow burn approach Jarmusch brings to the narrative. It's nice to get to know each character a little, observe the minutiae of their everyday lives before things get crazy, and with a cast list as long as a zombie's intestinal tract, there's plenty to observe.

We follow various eccentric characters as the zombie epidemic spreads through the town: Tom Waits' reclusive mountain hermit, Tilda Swinton's samurai mortician, a group of teenage hipsters including Selena Gomez, and a gas station attendant played by Caleb Landry Jones. Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Chloe Sevigny, Danny Glover and Iggy Pop round off one of the most impressive and diverse casts in quite some time.

Jarmusch takes shots at geek culture, smart phones (zombies clutch these whilst moaning "Siiriii...") and frequently rails against the casual materialism of capitalism, but this is window dressing. The film does not have a message, and really just exists to raise a dry smile.

The central issue here is not the story, itself a fairly routine zombie outbreak type scenario, but the tone. The cast tend to stand around looking puzzled and making small-talk about small-town things in a vaguely hip way - and this continues essentially until the last frame. The only actor playing it 'straight' is Sevigny, her extreme emotional reaction to this horrible situation serving to highlight how curiously dead the living characters all appear.

So what we're left with are a series of occasional gags which work well (Iggy Pop is one of the funniest screen-zombies I've ever seen, Swinton is magnetic as always) but a cast who too often feel like they're in on the joke. When Driver turns to Murray and casually mentions that he knows how the film will end because "Jim showed me the script," and Murray curses out Jarmusch personally for this betrayal, all that's left for the pair to do is to wink at the camera and give us thumbs up. The film is too cool for it's own good.

I enjoyed The Dead Don't Die as I was watching it. I wanted to see where it went, and I laughed several times. It was only afterwards when I realised that we had been watching actors having fun and enjoying themselves with their friends, rather than characters fighting zombies, that I began to feel cheated.

At one point Murray halts his conversation with Driver: "Wait a sec, are we ad libbing right now?" he asks.

I don't know Bill, ask Jim. He's right behind the camera, laughing to himself.

Recommended Release: Zombibeland

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Digger (1 year ago) Reply

TDDD commits the cardinal sin of being a "comedy" while at the same time being unfunny.


JC (1 year ago) Reply

I was duped by the trailer! Not a big fan of the directors but the trailer looked so different from his prior work and actually looked funny. I was bored to tears. Too dry for my taste.

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