The Dead Don't Die

The Dead Don't Die ★★½

One of the most disappointing films of 2019 for me, and for different reasons.

So I saw two zombie comedies this year, not really expecting either to be great, but the one that I thought would be better than the 10 years too late sequel "Zombieland 2" was actually the worse one! (Zombieland 2 was surprisingly enjoyable) Now when I first heard that Jim Jarmusch's next film would be a zombie movie starring Adam Driver and Bill Murray, I wasn't sure what to think. See, I never liked anything zombie related with a few exceptions if the piece of media was good, but I quickly got so sick of the fad we had in the early 2010's and zombies were just a big turn off for me. However, this was coming from Jim Jarmusch, one of my favorite directors! His previous two projects were "Only Lovers Left Alive" (made around the Twilight hype) and "Paterson" which I think are two of his best bodies of work! Despite everyone getting excited for this, I couldn't help but feel disconnected from it which was weird. Jarmusch seemed to be at the top of his game, so this zombie film should be surprisingly good right? Suddenly "The Dead Don't Die" got lukewarm or negative responses and nobody gave the film any more attention. I held out a little bit because it was Jarmusch, but after viewing it I was disappointed not only because this was weaker than Jarmusch's previous film, but it just might be his worst.

With the enormous cast that came with the film I thought that maybe the film would be an anthology of sorts. Yeah that's what Jarmusch is doing! You crazy genius! Like "Mystery Train" or "Coffee and Cigarettes" The film would be split into six stories or so each following different characters through a zombie apocalypse! But, no it's more just an Independence Day kind of thing where there's too many characters who have no significance whatsoever.

A big problem "The Dead Don't Die" has is repetition. It plays the damn Sturgill Simpson song "The Dead Don't Die" nearly five times maybe more! In another scene Cliff, played by Bill Murray discovers some bodies in a diner, walks out and asks if that was a wild animal or several wild animals. Then two more officers show up one after the other and proceed to follow the exact same set of actions in a row! It takes forever and is just a waste of time. This also leads to my other issue is just how slow this film is. It takes forever establishing all these characters, who don't really amount to much anyways. Halfway through the film we're introduced to these new hipster characters who are there for no reason than to just be killed off.

Now sometimes Jim Jarmusch films can be hard to understand or enjoy. His early indie projects are known for being so minimalistic that they basically scrape the bottom of sheer nothingness! His dry humor mixed with his bare minimum substance, can make his films difficult to get into, yet with a little patience can be understand as humorous, heartfelt, or just an interpretive, objective, look at human life. And I thought maybe these drab scenes is like something from Coffee and Cigarettes. Maybe there's just something I'm not able to read. Perhaps it's true. Maybe if I rewatch this in ten years I'll find that some of these needless scenes actually were significant in Jarmusch's eyes. However, as I always try to profess, your films "Meaning" means nothing if you're not engrossed, fascinated, or entertained by the film itself.

So just what did Jarmusch mean? I have no idea. I really don't know what Jarmusch was trying to accomplish with this film. Some might say it's simply a zombie comedy, but then the plot frays into a couple odd directions by the end which just confuse me. First the film has some lazy fourth wall breaks and completely demolishes it in the end. After that there's a weird thing that happens with a character (I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but just take my word for it that it's stupid) Then in the final scene we suddenly get a monologue about social commentary! I was at least willing to see where these options would go, but they go nowhere! It's like Jarmusch couldn't decide what he wanted for an ending, so he just did them all! There were some ideas present that might have been interesting. For instance the police officers notice that the zombies gravitate toward the things they loved when they were alive. That's actually an intriguing concept that I don't think has ever been done in any other zombie films, at least none that I know of. But alas, aside from the half-assed social commentary at the end the film doesn't explore that concept anymore. "Shaun of the Dead" is a much better zombie movie with comedy, action, horror, survival and even social commentary! And if you think Jarmusch just isn't cut out to make a bigger budget kind of movie, I disagree. Films such as "Dead Man" "Ghost Dog" or "The Limits of Control" are great films with a more ambitious scope than just sitting and talking in a cafe. I really have no idea what went wrong.

I may be just a humble 20 something year old loser who sits behind a computer screen, but here's my idea of how to fix this mess. Going back to the idea of the zombies doing what they loved when they were alive, there's another thing I thought this movie could be when it was first announced. I thought that maybe Jarmusch's film was going to be about zombies, not the people. Similar to how "Only Lovers Left Alive" was about the vampires and not the hunters. I quickly dismissed this as it would be difficult to do, but think about it. The zombie doesn't have to talk or do any complex action, but just imagine Adam Driver as an undead corpse wandering his town, reliving memories, revisiting his loved ones. A very basic simple idea, but one that could be emotional, humorous, maybe even scary. Think "Dead Man" or "Paterson" if Paterson was a zombie. But that's just my two cents.

The film did have some things going for it though. Although Simpson's song is done to death, Jarmusch's musical group 'Squrl' creates an eerie score. And while this may not be Frederick Elmes best work, the legendary DOP is given enough chance to shine through. The actors all do a good job for what they got! Tilda Swinton makes everything better and was probably the only character I liked besides the two show stealers: Adam Driver and Bill Murray. They deliver some great deadpan lines and manage to have a convincing chemistry between each other. Quite a few of there scenes actually made me laugh and got some emotional response from me.

This is far from the worst film of 2019, it's just kind of bland, and confused. I would even say it's that bad, but just compared to the marvelous Jim Jarmusch and the roll he's been on, it's just such a letdown, as it seems to have no clear control or direction. Rather than Jarmusch giving the genre a new spin like he has before, it just feels more like a bad script from a 12 year old, that Jarmusch tried to justify. Any new ideas are simply eluded to and never given a thought of commitment. I will continue to support Jarmusch, I'm not mad at him, I just don't know what happened or what his plan was for this film. I honestly don't recommend it, but if you're an admirer of the director and want to give it a chance, get ready for a real 'Dead'pan of a movie.


Footnote: And did anybody notice the thing with the names in this movie? Why they're either named after celebrities, Cliff Robertson (actor) Hank Thompson (country musician) Frank Miller (comic book artist) Or their names rhyme or are eerily similar to their actors names, Tilda Swinton, Zelda Winston. Rosie Perez, Posie Jaurez? This film is so weird yet so boring.

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