There have been so many zombie movies and television series that a new zombie film would have to be really special to stand out.
So when writer/director Jim Jarmusch announced that his next film would be The Dead Don’t Die, yet another zombies are taking over the world movie but filtered through Jarmusch’s perceptive but eccentric and lowkey point-of-view, there were plenty of raised hopes—mine included. I would like to say these hopes have been justified but alas, they were not. You might ask yourself, how could things go wrong, with a powerhouse cast that includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, and Iggy Pop (as the first among many, many zombies). Well, it’s not exactly that things go wrong…it’s just that (to paraphrase Henry Fonda’s Admiral from the war movie In Harm’s Way, it’s a little weak on being right.
The elements are there: the initially intriguing set-up (Earth being knocked off its axis and polar fracking leading to the rise of the now undead); quirky, bewildered small-town police (Murray, Driver, Sevigny) trying to figure things out as the body count keeps rising; out-of-towners (disparagingly referred to as “hipsters—can you believe it) unwittingly caught up in the carnage; and the lovable (and not-so-lovable) townspeople (Buscemi, Danny Glover) trying to stay alive. And leave us not forget the wise hermit (Tom Waits) who observes and comments on what led man to this sorry state—and, most gloriously, Tilda Swinton as a mysterious new funeral director who has a way with the dead.
Yet somehow The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t quite jell. The police are a little too laid-back—one keeps wanting them to do something other than register perplexity or offer semi-barbed quips; the humor is either forced or lazy, relying on the actors’ presence to see it through; certain plot twists either lead nowhere or come off as a tad self-conscious. However the zombies are a treat and a hoot, including the formidable Mr. Pop (he just wants coffee) and Carol Kane’s revived dead drunk who clamors for her “Chardonnay.” All these zombies want is what they had in life, including cable, coffee, wi-fi, and in a priceless moment, “Xanax.” Oh yeah, they also kill the living, but isn’t that what they always do?