Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny and a bunch of other people
Runtime 1 hour, 43 minutes
By Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“Ghouls.” - said in Adam Driver voice is YES.
The world really didn’t need another zombie movie, or as Adam Driver calls them…ghouls. Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, is comprised of several great scenes but ultimately misses the mark, becoming yet another zombie flick added to the ever-growing pile.
Seriously, enough with the zombies. Let’s just tuck them away in their coffins and get back to kicking it with ghosts. Although, as Jarmusch’s title so conveniently reminds us - the dead just won’t die. So I am sure the movie moguls have a few more reanimated corpse pictures in the chute. It’s not that this movie was a total stinker, it just was, wellllllllllllll…meh. With its incredibly stacked cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Adam Driver, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Steve Buscemi, Carol Kane and a bunch of other folks - it was a no brainer that I was gonna watch this thing, even if it was about brain-eating dead people.
The film takes place in the quiet town of Centerville, PA. Set in present day, the town itself seems to be stuck in a time warp, in which pleasantries and compact discs still exist. The story focuses mainly on the three police officers within the town, Cliff (Bill Murray), Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) and their reaction to the sudden zombie epidemic that has infested their peaceful existence. Throughout the story Jarmusch introduces various quirky residents of Centerville. Most of these interactions are more entertaining than actually meaningful to the story. By the end of the film, I came to the conclusion that many scenes and characters could be completely cut and nothing would be lost.
I think it is a lot to ask of any viewer in 2019 to not only sit in the theatre to watch a zombie flick, but to sit through one that is an hour and forty three minutes long. Which leads me to one of my biggest gripes with this movie - comfort. I am extremely pro-movie theatre. However, The Dead Don’t Die, convinced me that there are some movies meant for the digital release lyfe. As I biked home from the cinema, I thought about how much happier I would have been watching this in my humble abode, in my jammies, with a cold beer in a koozie, the benefit of the pause button and ability to ring up the pizza dude. There is nothing about this movie that is really worth the movie ticket price. Nor is it a flick in which the experience is enhanced by witnessing it on the silver screen.
As I mentioned, there are some moments that I did quite enjoy. Jarmusch’s creation of interesting characters and witty dialogue is something I have always appreciated most about his work. His most recent narrative feature, Patterson was one of my favorite films of 2016. This was also another Jarmusch picture that starred Adam Driver. I am aware of the allegiance many have to Adam Driver and he is perfectly fine in this. I’m still not quite getting the obsession though - for me, Caleb Landry Jones is someone to talk about. This guy has played a variety of different characters, most notable as the evil brother in Get Out and Red Welby in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. In The Dead Don’t Die he plays Bobby, a manager at the local gas station who is obsessed with MOVIES. This character had my heart when he got exasperated, correcting a hipster tourist on the layout of the Bates Motel and that the rooms were not separated into “little bungalows” (*Sidenote from the Old Sport: I track Psycho references in films on Letterboxd here) .Bobby is YES - here’s the thing though, as much as I enjoyed him and his film knowledge, there was not much point to this character within the story otherwise.
Similarly, this could be said for the character Zelda Watson, the owner/operator/director of the town’s funeral home (known as Ever After) played by Tilda Swinton. Zelda is extremely odd and eccentric, making her totally my cup of tea. One of her outfits consisted of a The Night of the Hunter, preacher boi style tie, similar to one donned by Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). She also had some extremely unique ideas when it came to cadaver make-up. Hi-brow concepts that were reminiscent of 1980s glam rock…think NEON. As much as I enjoyed the absurdity, this was another role that could have been completely snipped with no loss to the story. Sure, some entertainment would be gone, but this character was not driving the plot in any way, shape, or form.
The movie was trying to say something, but along the way it seemed to forget that. I feel it was trying to speak about the lack of awareness society takes to the world around them. Instead of moans or groans, the zombies within the film, exclaim things such as “coffee and wi-fi”. This portrays that, in some regard, we may not be physically dead but have already become zombies. The “head in the sand” mentality when it comes to the horrible things happening around us. Throughout the film, Ronnie (Adam Driver) remarks on several occasions, “this isn’t going to end well”, a message quite possibly about our future. Especially when people are far more concerned with whether they have a strong enough Bluetooth connection rather than climate change ending our existence by 2050.
For me, much of this is lost in the meandering plot. There is also a lot of characters to keep track of - most of which I have not even mentioned, cause well - do you really want to know about Trump-loving Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi)? I’d much rather know that Zelda exists. I also take issue with how Chloe Sevingy was utilized. Her character, Mindy, was portrayed as a jittery, emotional scaredy-cat police officer that seemed to play right into the stereotype of how a woman that happens to be a cop. This was upsetting and I much rather would have seen this from say, Bill Murray’s character, Cliff. Frankly, all the officers seemed ill-equipped for the situation they found themselves in, yet, the only one who puked was Mindy. Nah.
I wouldn’t skip this flick - just do yourself a favor, watch it at home.