The Dead Don't Die

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 3, 2019

'The Dead Don't Die'
'The Dead Don't Die'  

Available digitally today!

A star-studded cast of performers who are game for anything, a director/writer with an unmistakable wit and a genre ready for new blood; what could possibly go wrong, right? A lot, apparently. With "The Dead Don't Die," Jim Jarmusch strains for profundity and ends up with a cluttered mess of a movie, not so much overstuffed as it is empty allegory masquerading as something smarter. The hallmarks of the legendary indie filmmaker are here, but they get eaten alive by a story that's too coy for its own good. And a zombie movie about the dangers of living under capitalism? Bold move, even though it never transcends the bold text employed.

In the peaceful town of Centerville, murders and other weird happenings start to plague the town's few citizens. Because of polar fracking, the earth has been pushed off its normal rotation, which causes more than a few things to go bump in the night. So, we follow a slew of characters as they struggle with the dead coming back to life.

One particular scene in "The Dead Don't Die" really struck me - not because of its impact, but its fight to be relevant. Farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) is a MAGA hat-wearing racist who visits the local diner and says things that cause the rest of the denizens of Centerville to dislike him. His dislike of a homeless man living in the woods and the slurs he doles out about minorities are, of course, clearly alluding to the America that our criminal of a president is creating in his own image. Yet, no one really pays any mind to the farmer because they believe his hate won't boil over into actual violence. In short: He's harmless. This isn't Jarmusch saying that all MAGA freaks are harmless, but it's certainly detailing a world in which tolerance is important above all else. And while he's not wrong, the inclusion of the farmer falls flat like many of the director's other attempts in the film to put his finger on the pulse of the current political climate.

That isn't to say that "The Dead Don't Die" isn't without its pleasures, though. Bill Murray and Adam Driver make for the perfect team in this. Every line of dialogue and pause before delivering a soft punchline is just the right amount of Zen that Jarmusch goes for in so many of his films. The most curious character, though, is that of Officer Mindy Morrison (Chlo Sevigny). While every other person in the town remains wooden and reactive to the zombie apocalypse in small ways, Sevigny's Morrison is forced to carry the emotional heft that the story seems to almost forget about. There's something interesting here about the past coming back to haunt and the incapability of humans to let go from anything, but it gets chewed up with a bunch of other ideas. The idea of our culture as a snake eating its own tail, and how that can be easily transposed onto the zombie genre, may be rife with possibilities... but this is not it.

What's increasingly odd about the casual nature of the plot and aesthetic of "The Dead Don't Die" is that it, like a zombie, wants to sneak up on you and leave a mark. There isn't a discernible or unique shot in the whole runtime and Jarmusch's touch tends to soften the edges of things. The film even dives into meta territory at the beginning, which kind of feels like something cute but unnecessary. Then, we arrive at the third act and it becomes the only trick in town.

Even for fans of Jarmusch, I wouldn't recommend "The Dead Don't Die." The clear-eyed naturalism that the filmmaker is so good at gets lost in the shuffle here. A bunch of heady intentions gets lopped off in a movie about heads getting lopped off. Imagine that.



Chief Cliff Robertson :: Bill Murray
Officer Ronnie Peterson :: Adam Driver
Zelda Winston :: Tilda Swinton
Officer Mindy Morrison :: Chloë Sevigny
Farmer Frank Miller :: Steve Buscemi
Hank Thompson :: Danny Glover
Bobby Wiggins :: Caleb Jones
Zoe :: Selena Gomez
Jack :: Austin Butler
Zack :: Luka Sabbat
Posie Juarez :: Rosie Perez
Fern :: Eszter Balint
Male Coffee Zombie :: Iggy Pop
Female Coffee Zombie :: Sara Driver
Dean :: RZA
Danny Perkins :: Larry Fessenden
Hermit Bob :: Tom Waits
Lily :: Rosal Colon
Guitar Zombie :: Sturgill Simpson
Stella :: Maya Delmont
Olivia :: Taliyah Whitaker


Director :: Jim Jarmusch
Screenwriter :: Jim Jarmusch
Producer :: Joshua Astrachan
Producer :: Carter Logan
Executive Producer :: Marcelo Gandola
Executive Producer :: Fredrik Zander
Cinematographer :: Frederick Elmes
Film Editor :: Affonso Gonçalves
Original Music :: SQÜRL
Production Design :: Alex DiGerlando
Costume Designer :: Catherine George
Casting :: Ellen Lewis