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The Dead Don't Die review - return of the zom-com | reviews, news & interviews

The Dead Don't Die review - return of the zom-com

The Dead Don't Die review - return of the zom-com

Indie hero Jim Jarmusch brings signature touch to living-dead genre

Bill Murray and Adam Driver as cops-turned-zombiekillers Cliff and Ronnie

Deadpan humour is given new meaning in Jim Jarmusch’s 13th film, a zombie comedy animated by his typical oddball style. Jarmusch has assembled a grand cast comprising recent collaborators Adam Driver and Bill Murray, long-term musician pals Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and RZA, and a swathe of newbies that includes Selena Gomez.

It is an orchestrated confusion, lurching somewhere between a joyfully zany tribute and an over-intelligent, at times dark, social critique.

Things get weird from scene one in the fictional middle America town of Centerville. Polar fracking has tilted the earth’s axis and this has made the lying dead restless. Zombies, it turns out, are ideal Jarmuschian characters: slow-witted, low-key drifters that can be easily used as vessels for wry cultural commentary. The undead of Centerville all have consumer addictions, groaning for wi-fi, coffee or Xanax. The town’s cops Cliff (Murray), Ronnie (Driver) and Mindy (Chloë Sevigny) drift about observing the weirdness, trying to think up a plan. Nothing much is solved, and the plot doesn’t develop so much as accrue absurdities.

Iggy Pop in The Dead Don't DieThe Dead Don’t Die is packed with ludicrously kooky performances. Waits appears irregularly as a kind of post-apocalyptic hermit that hides in the woods (and occasionally narrates with doom-laden messages). Steve Buscemi plays a gun-loving white supremacist, sporting a parody Trump cap that reads “Keep America White Again”. And in a great cameo, Tilda Swinton plays a Scottish make-up obsessed samurai, recently employed as Centerville’s undertaker.

Only Jarmusch would shove so many goofballs together in one film, alongside numerous obscure and testing film history references. As always, he draws on a rich bank of knowledge to delight cinephiles. A nervous, dweeby gas-station clerk wears a shirt bearing the image of F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu vampire, recalling the very beginning of the genre. In another scene, chief cop Cliff stumbles absentmindedly into the opened grave of one Samuel M. Fuller, a favourite director of Jarmusch's, and one who delighted in pulp and sensation. As for the moments of limb detachment and organ removal? Well, the guy clearly loves George A. Romero.

Is this zombie apocalypse intended to represent any impending dangers affecting our own world? Maybe, though it’s hard to tell how much Jarmusch wants us to read in. The characters do seem to be caught in a void, particularly the dopey cops Cliff and Ronnie. They repeatedly step out of the logic of the film to refer to themselves as acting in a scene or playing a role. The offbeat tone is slyly rewarding, and the chilled-out pacing is certainly a unique touch for a normally manic, scream-heavy genre. But in spite of the fun, the knowing and self-aware characters annoy after the initial hits. Step back and leave aside the search for meaning, though, and the mysteries of this weird outing might just entrance you.

The plot doesn't develop so much as accrue absurdities


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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