Have you ever watched a movie and two minutes in thought, “Yeah, this is going to be good?” That is precisely how I felt when I settled into my seat at the Angelika theater at Mockingbird Station to catch an early screening of The Dead Don’t Die.
Funny enough, the movie was repeatedly stamped with the one-liner “This is not going to end well.”
It was three things that hooked me early in the movie; the first, an older, slimmed down Bill Murray, who portrayed a police chief in the zombie flick. The second, his sidekick Adam Driver, who I have been obsessed with since his reign on HBO’s Girls, an adoration that grew after his stellar performance in BlacKkKlansman. And finally a dry wit conversation between the two with the local recluse, Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), about whether or not he stole a chicken from a local farmer. (Spoiler alert: He did)
In the sleepy small town of Centerville, something is not quite right. The moon hangs large and low in the sky, the hours of daylight are becoming unpredictable, and animals are beginning to exhibit unusual behaviors. News reports are scary, and scientists are concerned, but no one foresees the strangest and most dangerous repercussion that will soon start plaguing Centerville: the dead rise from their graves and feast on the living, and the residents must battle to survive.
Now, the new zombie comedy from indie legend Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog), isn’t your typical big-budget film; the cinematography is reminiscent of a 1970s horror film with its simple backdrops, creepy angles, and mood lighting.
It also hasn’t received the ravest of reviews, and I want to address a few such as, “The Dead Don’t Die feels like the work of an artist who hasn’t just run out of ideas but may have given up hope” (Boston Globe); “It’s just that with all this talent and all this beautiful weirdness at hand, it could have been so much better,” (Arizona Republic); and “Dead bodies come to life, but the script and dry humor remain lifeless,” (Texas Art & Film).
I don’t know if the reason I loved this movie and such critics didn’t is because I come from a long line of dry humor or if I saw a plotline other than what these critics were expecting. I’m sure most who go to a zombie movie are expecting an action-packed apocalyptic drama – and there’s nothing wrong with that. I watch all of the Real Housewives for the same reason.
However, this movie isn’t really about zombies, at least not in the typical context.
Packed with a tremendous cast (Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Selena Gomez, Carol Kane, Austin Butler, Luka Sabbat, and Tom Waits), The Dead Don’t Die (Rated R) is more so about greed and an insatiable hunger for stuff.
You can clearly see that message in the zombies themselves.
While the undead wasn’t afraid to eat a few humans, they were more so drawn to the inanimate objects they were obsessed with while alive. And while that is a pretty deep message about humanity, it’s also pretty funny to see zombies roam around crying out for things like Skittles, coffee, and Chardonnay. Or that many of the zombies are still glued to their phones.
The movie also points to one of Jarmusch’s stranger entries, that Polar fracking and the resulting shift in the Earth’s rotation is what caused the dead to rise from their graves.
Yes, the rhythm of the movie is slow. It is mostly comprised of little vignettes and the introduction of a lively cast of locals (Tilda Swinton as the katana-wielding mortician was my favorite). Yes, it is filled with dry one-liners that are sparse, but when they’re delivered, it’s brilliant and meaningful – what did you expect with Bill Murray.
The Dead Don’t Die, and all of its idiosyncrasies is precisely what makes it stand out in the crowded genre.
So often we see these zombie movies and television shows that toy with characters tropes and that sort of hook-line-and-sink-them agenda is void in this movie. I honestly think Jarmusch’s take on the end of the world is pretty authentic. The fact that he sees the end of the world as hopeless – people die, that’s it – is exactly what sets the film apart from others in the genre.
Did I say Bill Murray is in it?
The movie was brimming with dry wit and obvious comedic clues that had me either rolling in laughter or leaning forward in my seat to think about what I just watched.
So go see it.
The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday.