THE DEAD DON’T DIE, Jim Jarmusch’s absurdist, star-studded zom-com takes us to the small, peaceful town of Centerville, but when an army of corpses suddenly begin rising from the grave, it falls to bumbling cops Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) to save the day – or try their best, at any rate. It’s a premise you’ve undoubtedly heard a hundred times before, but Jarmusch does an impressive job turning the much-parodied genre on its head even further, creating a film that, while not ground-breaking, manages to breathe some new life into the (un)dead genre.
Jarmusch is no stranger to self-aware narratives, but THE DEAD DON’T DIE takes this further than ever before. Almost every character, theme and plot beat is a reaction to something that has come before it – a fact the film wears gleefully on its sleeve. A significant portion of the comedy stems from this alone, and while it undeniably wears slightly thin towards the end, Jarmusch manages to keep the jokes varied enough that it rarely becomes tedious before then. Even the heavy-handed allegories for the materialistic nature of capitalism and America’s current political divide – bluntly portrayed through zombies mindlessly moaning words like “wi-fi” and “Siri,” and a man in a “make America white again” hat – feel as much like wry jabs at the fumbling social commentaries that saturate the genre as a social commentary in its own right.
This playful awareness of cliché is reflected in the impressive, varied cast, all of whom give exaggerated, trope-filled performances taken to ludicrous extremes. The best example of this comes in the form of Tilda Swinton as Scottish mortician/samurai warrior, Zelda Winston. The role is bonkers, and Swinton knows exactly how much to lean into it, stealing every scene she touches in the process.
Considering how absurd many of the ideas in THE DEAD DON’T DIE are, it’s impressive that it works as well as it does. Unfortunately, not everything hits its intended mark. While Driver and Murray’s droll, lackadaisical delivery means many jokes land in off-beat, unexpected ways, it causes just as many to fall disappointingly flat. Similarly, the action has a tendency to feel slow and strangely insubstantial, lacking a sense of impact – something that becomes particularly noticeable in the film’s final quarter.
THE DEAD DON’T DIE takes a relentlessly postmodern approach that may understandably irritate some viewers, but those willing to sit back and go along for the ride will find a fun, thoughtful and unique comedy in a genre where such a thing is becoming increasingly hard to find.