Despite killer cast, The Dead Don't Die is as lifeless as its zombies
The films of Jim Jarmusch are most definitely an acquired taste. The stories he tells can be slow to unfold and often feature actors turning in performances that are understated, to say the least. But he always attracts interesting and notable actors to his projects, making his films appealing for anyone who is a fan of those stars.
His latest, The Dead Don’t Die, is his most star-filled movie since 2003’s Coffee and Cigarettes. In a small town called Centerville, residents suddenly start noticing strange things happening. The local police force — Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) — is the first to discover the awful truth that a shift in the Earth’s rotation has caused the dead to be reanimated as zombies.
But if you were expecting the typical war between zombies and living humans, think again. There are a few relatively gruesome zombie attack scenes, and there are a multitude of beheadings and point-blank gunshots to kill zombies, but the film is about as slow as you can get. Jarmusch has no interest in making an action movie; instead, the plot moves at a languid pace, providing plenty of time for the characters to make dry quips and prepare for the zombie invasion at their own speed.
You could call it a character study, but that would mean that it contains actual noteworthy characters. Jarmusch seems to want all of his characters to speak in monotones, keeping almost all inflection out of their speech. This trick works for a while but gets old about 20 minutes in. The only truly interesting character is Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), the local mortician who also happens to know how to wield a katana sword.
It all feels like an exercise in Jarmusch seeing how much he can get away with before someone calls him on his navel-gazing. The film contains a couple of moments that break the fourth wall that are chuckle-worthy at best. Pop star Selena Gomez pops up in a cameo that delivers almost nothing, not because of her skills but because there’s nothing of interest in her character.
Other wasted actors include Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Caleb Landry Jones, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, RZA, and more. Country singer Sturgill Simpson is arguably the star of the film, as the titular song he recorded for the film is played over and over again in a running joke that would’ve been a lot funnier had the film’s humor level been higher.
The Dead Don’t Die is only for a very specific type of filmgoer, and even those with a predilection toward liking Jarmusch’s films may find their patience tested by its lack of entertainment value.