Audiences will be zombies after ‘The Dead Don’t Die’

By Chic DiCiccio

After the sixth or seventh zombie that staggers on screen while moaning on and on about “wifi” or “Xanax,” “The Dead Don’t Die” may leave audiences moaning themselves. For writer/director Jim Jarmusch, a filmmaker noted for his minimalist style, his hot take on American consumerism has nary a subtle point and seems more interested in insulting an audience than entertaining it. 

Danny Glover (left), Bill Murray and Adam Driver in “The Dead Don’t Die.”
Photo courtesy of Animal Kingdom

That’s not to say that Jarmusch’s zombie comedy is all bad. He definitely has loads to say and some, if not most of it is fairly spot on. Sure, we use our phones too much and we’re addicted to coffee, but there’s a fine line between satire and mean spiritedness. Jarmusch’s comedy may score some cool points with the baby boomer crowd, but anyone that enjoys a modern comfort of any kind could zone out on this one fairly quickly. 

The zoning out could be aided by the fact that “The Dead Don’t Die” moves at a glacier’s pace. By the time two zombies (one of them being Iggy Pop) crawl out of their graves, the movie feels like it has attempted to introduce you to every single one of Centerville’s just more than 700 residents. Some of them, like Steve Buscemi’s Farmer Miller, are one-note characatures, while others like Tom Waits’ Hermit Bob are weird just for the sake of being weird.  

Most of the razor-thin plot is told through the Centerville Police Department, led by the Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray). His optimism is countered by the calm realism of Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and he seems to know more about what is happening than he is letting on. They are joined by Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), who Jarmusch no doubt purposefully wrote to mock the panicked, shrieking female role typically seen in horror movies. 

If there is one bright spot in this mix, it’s Tilda Swinton’s hilarious portrayal of Zelda Winston, the town’s funeral director. She speaks in her full Scottish brogue and acts as if she’s collecting information about the townspeople as opposed to helping them. She gets to do most of the zombie killing while wielding a samurai sword. She’s a bright spot in an otherwise dull and dark movie. 

Speaking of zombie killing, there’s not much of it in “The Dead Don’t Die.” The movie seems to be marketed as that type of film, but it’s most decidedly not “The Walking Dead.” There’s little gore, the zombies move slower than the plot, yet everyone seems to give up the second a few zombies are near them. It could be just another layer of criticism by Jarmusch, but it sure makes for a boring movie. 

Murray, Driver and Sevigny excel at the awkward humor that is intermittently dropped in, but there’s way too much filler for a movie with this little of plot. An entire subplot involving three kids in a juvenile detention center has no purpose, then it inexplicably drops off the radar. Danny Glover is as charming as he’s ever been, but even he is given three or four scenes at the most. 

Social commentary via a genre film should be right in Jarmusch’s wheelhouse. His films are always slowly paced, but the entertainment value usually makes it worth the wait. “The Dead Don’t Die” may be Jarmusch’s laziest film, both in story and visually. Oddly enough, it’s probably his most commercially viable movie, but most who see it may walk away underwhelmed.