The Dead Don't Die


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

The Dead Don't Die
"Jarmusch usually manages to invest his films with a quirky sense of humour, but here the lines fall decidedly flat." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Jim Jarmusch’s zombie pastiche - which certainly is starry enough with turns from Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny and a sword-wielding Tilda Swinton - emerges as far too knowing and clever for its own good.

Even the most ardent admirers of the genre and such classics as The Night Of The Living Dead by George A Romero (said to be an inspiration) will find it tests their patience.

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It starts promisingly enough in a small eastern town, all diners and hardware stores and a police presence comprising deadpan Murray, laconic Driver and a severely coiffed Sevigny. It has a neatly portrayed Fifties vibe, with Jarmusch capturing the atmosphere of small town Americana to a tee.

Early on Driver’s cop, who scoots around in a red Smart car, intones that it’s all going to end badly, which becomes a running joke that overstays its welcome. Sturgill Simpson’s title tune bookends the proceedings.

The curiosity is engaged when weird things begin to happen, such as the light remaining way past the time of the normal sunset, watches stop and the power supply goes wonky as the pulse of Centerville (population on the signpost 738) starts to fade.

Nobody knows quite what is going on but there are suggestions that climate change may be to blame. At any rate, the inhabitants seem to take it all in their stride - until that is the undead rise up to satiate their desires.

The film is populated with a litany of supporting characters including Danny Glover’s elderly Hank Thompson and Steve Buscemi as a racist farmer. The most attention grabbing of the lot is Zelda (Tilda Swinton in full bonkers mode), who is looking after the local morgue and has penchant for wielding a samurai sword. She has a Glasgow accent and appears to live in a universe of her own.

The only character who doesn’t suffer a fate worse than death is a misfit hermit (Tom Waits), who watches and comments on the proceedings from afar and does not even figure on the radar of the zombies.

As you might expect from Jarmusch, there is more going on than chopped heads and assorted limbs although the blood letting seems to take over the film for long swathes. Jarmusch references the end of the world as we know it and invests it all with sense of doom and gloom about the future of the planet. The population of Centerville haven’t a clue about to save themselves and how to withstand the onslaught.

Jarmusch usually manages to invest his films with a quirky sense of humour, but here the lines fall decidedly flat, yet the hard-working cast pull-out all the stops to some positive effect. Whether it set the right note for the opening choice in Competition of this year’s Cannes Film Festival remains debatable.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2019
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The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
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Director: Jim Jarmusch

Writer: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez

Year: 2019

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Sweden, US

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