In Review: The Dead Don’t Die

An offbeat zombie film with a pace and tone that will determine one's love.

The Dead Don’t Die

Premiered on June 14, 2019. 104 minutes, rated R.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Written by Jim Jarmusch 

A new zombie movie? Check. A new movie with Bill Murray? Check. A new movie with Adam Driver? Check, and my seventeen-year-old daughter now wants to see this. A zombie movie written and directed by Jim Jarmusch? That’s a genre I never thought he would go near. Yeah, I had to check this out.

This is a comedy where lines are delivered dead pan and if you’re not giggling or laughing after Chief Cliff Robertson and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Bill Murray and Adam Driver) confront Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) in the woods, then you won’t enjoy this film. I and my daughter were laughing at the lines and the reactions of all the characters from start to almost the finish. The movie is slowly paced, much more so than any other zombie movie I can think of, but this allows the viewer to really absorb the tone of the characters and their world.

The dead come back to life due to polar fracking. The action causes the Earth’s rotation to change. Trouble is foreshadowed by insects becoming frenzied and animals running off. Doom has come to the world once the moon obtains a violet aura. The first two dead to rise are Sara Driver and Iggy Pop. They wreck havoc at a local hangout and then are seen only briefly afterwards. That follows the format of this film. With the exception of Murray, Driver, Chloë Sevigny as Officer Mindy Morrison, Steve Buscemi as Farmer Frank Miller, Danny Glover as Hank Thompson, and Caleb Landry Jones and Bobby Wiggins, and Tilda Swinton as Zelda Winston, the rest of the cast only gets fleeting appearances — ten minutes at the most. This is a large cast, so that’s fine, but what the actors get to do on the screen was so enjoyable this film could have been much longer to have them do more. This is a character film that happens to have zombies feeding on the living.

Murray and Driver are a great team. The delivery of their dialogue, and the pauses, were a joy. If the two had just been driving around town for ninety minutes, I would have been happy. There’s an early moment in the film when one of them breaks the fourth wall and it’s a good laugh, but it happens again at the end of the film and it didn’t work. Both officers love their jobs and one is a little more comfortable with this undead rising than the other. I haven’t seen Driver in a comedy and he should definitely return to the genre. Murray is Murray and if you like him, you’ll like him in this. I loved him. Sevigny is the officer who is slowly losing a grip on her sanity and she goes down a typical path for this genre. She has one scene with Swinton that is hilarious. Swinton is the scene stealer of the movie because her character is a little bit of everything: new director of the local funeral home, Scottish, expert with a katana, killer during the crisis, and a left field ending for her. She has also has a brief moment with Driver that will make fans of a certain franchise laugh out loud. Buscemi is a red baseball hat wearing American man (sound familiar?) who everyone in town thinks is an a-hole. His dialogue is funny and he made me laugh. Glover is the local hardware store owner that’s beloved by everyone. He’s great and his interactions with Jones, the horror loving owner of a gas station, are fantastic.

Other notable names include RZA from Wu-Tang Clan as Dean a delivery man who has only two brief appearances (Take note of the company he works for), Rosie Perez is news broadcaster Posie Juarez who updates the characters of what else is happening in the world, Carol Kane as dead-when-the-movie-starts Mallory O’Brien, who has one brilliant funny line, and Selena Gomez as young Zoe who’s making her way through town with friends. A name I didn’t know, but became more than aware of is Sturgill Simpson, who sings the theme song and makes a cameo as a zombie dragging a guitar. I actually found myself nodding my foot to the rhythm each time his song played.

The plot of the film is simple enough: zombies begin to override Centerville and people do what they can to survive. What the zombies do when they’re not trying to feast on the living was an interesting choice, and I bought into it, but the film goes off the cliff in its final minutes: one character has a tremendous surprise that falls flat, the fourth wall is broken again and does not work, and one character makes some tacked on commentary. This film would have much stronger if had just continued to be funny, the commentary was unneeded as the lesson was learned by viewers early on.

The make-up is really good and the variety of zombies is better than other films. This is due to each zombie being an individual, rather than just someone to be menacing or one in a large crowd. When the undead do die the effect is different from any other take downs I’ve seen before in zombie films, so my hat’s off to this production creating an original exit to each.

The final line: I loved the film until the final setting is reached. The characters were incredibly fun, with the cast looking as if they were having a blast — especially Swinton, I and my daughter continue to quote lines that make us laugh (“This is going to end badly” is at the top), the make-up effects are really good, and for fans of gore there’s plenty to keep them entertained. This is an offbeat zombie film with a pace and tone that will determine one’s love. I found this enjoyable, but I don’t know how much others will. If you go in knowing the pace and tone, like I did, you’ll enjoy this. If you go in cold, expecting just zombie action, you probably be scratching your head. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find some Sturgill Simpson CDs online. Overall grade: B



Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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