The Dead Don’t Die

What a waste of everyone’s time.

Us, the cast, Jim Jarmusch; everyone except Tilda Swinton who here made magic all on her lonesome.

When one hears that the Paterson Director is gathering his best mates for a zombie outing elation might be a fair response. Bill Murray and Adam Driver trying to one up each other’s deadpan, laissez faire reactions to an undead posse sounds like the stuff dreams are made of; the first, second or even third time they pull that bit. But when that’s all you’ve got going you’ve barely got a short, let alone a feature.

The approach of near everyone involved to The Dead Don’t Die was, for lack of a better term, lazy. Whether it be a naïve belief that the talent assembled would see it through absent output vaguely interesting or that this was just the Ocean’s 12/13 of zombie flicks where besties used a shoot as an excuse for a holiday, the movie just doesn’t pan out. A feature presentation at the State Theatre as part of the Sydney Film Festival, Jarmusch’s latest evokes the sort of fare that would more typically play in an ‘underground’ or grindhouse setting, or even the Festival’s ‘Freak Me Out’ strand.

That is not an aspersion on any of those forums, far from it, the output from which is generally rewarding. It’s just that which Jarmusch pivots too remains the hallmarks of lower budget productions and predictably more generic (if still more entertaining) fare where skint resources abound and those involved might not typically have access to, say, Bill Murray. This creative team having more ability to garner funding and name talent than near any other production premiering at this year’s Festival, those involved have no excuse.

Set in small town America and with Driver having done his bit better mere years ago in Logan Lucky, what amounts to glorified cameos from Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover and Selena Gomez, among several, falls into tired clichés like that of the ‘hipsters from the city.’ The film too neglects to really expound on any of these tropes for satire’s sake even given the strength of the character actors involved. A ‘Keep America White Again’ hat standing out as a joke for being both funny and not overplayed, many, many flicks have already made fun of what has been overdone in the zombie field, the parodies fairly becoming a (at times more successful) genre unto themselves, and there is nothing fresh in Jarmusch’s approach.

The interminable, never-ending silences between Driver, Murray and co are long enough to stick a laugh track in the middle; the repeated pauses for effect only drawing attention to these characters having but one recurring gag which was only properly funny the first time. The impact of the titular song, aired throughout, likewise fades with each replay in one of The Dead Don’t Die’s mega meta references.

Going so far as to name the Director in a tepid fourth wall break that could have been interesting had Jarmusch settled on experimenting further, the much discussed Star Wars keychain is one of the only meta moments meriting a dry laugh, as does Driver’s cop rocking up at a crime scene in his tiny, tiny car.

When Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) appears, evidently Jarmusch’s conduit as he knows what to do when living flesh arrives given he’s seen every movie, the aim-for-the-head gags and their like don’t land for being so obvious and signposting what perceptibly any given person in such a scenario would reasonably do anyway.

Absent any significant reason or drive for the zombies to appear, their simply being there, like they are in so, so, so many other films is boring; unlike other undead flicks to screen at this Festival neglecting to give us a reason why we should at all be interested in this latest infestation. It’s not enough to put makeup on Iggy Pop and have him raid the town (yes, in fairness this is very funny) and if you’re a Tom Waits fan he did the shtick better in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Bill Murray, in the fourth wall break no less, manages a few laughs just by being Bill Murray and knowing how to mine dust from even the deepest of comedy holes; thank God for Tilda Swinton for if she wasn’t in this it would be barely watchable. Playing a Scottish Samurai sword-wielding mortician and managing to sell even the most outrageous parts of this movie, alas had she been in it more or had The Dead Don’t Die been invested with some greater imagination of this calibre then this film might just have had a little more life than the hordes it unleashes.  

The Dead Don’t Die screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival, screens as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 4 at 6PM at the MCEC, August 6 at 9:15PM and August 17 at 9PM at Hoyts Melbourne Central and will be in cinemas from October 24

on Festevez