The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

deaddontHere we go, another zombie flick- do we really need another? Well, I liked the setting, and its offbeat, rather kooky feel, which was a little like a Zombie Twin Peaks. If that sounds great to you, then its possibly worth a watch- it certainly appealed to me; oddball characters in a rural, remote setting, there was a lovely mood there. But it doesn’t hold together. The weird thing was, the gentle, almost affectionate tone of the place (“Centerville”) and its laidback characters (this film has a great, albeit terribly wasted cast- Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover etc), seemed quite at odds with some of the grisly, graphic gore, feeling rather like two different movies.

The problem for this film was, if it was a comedy, it wasn’t particularly funny; certainly amusing rather than hilarious, and if it was intended to be a horror film, well, it stumbled throughout. In all honesty, it has all been done before: Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead was both more knowingly arch regards commentary on zombie flicks and also much funnier, while George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was far better with the social commentary. Director Jim Jarmusch is rather heavy-handed here with the zombies returning to favourite old haunts and habits of when they were alive, commentating on consumerism and waste – its fine but it was old years ago, and Romero was much more subtle with it. 

I was also confused by some of the plotlines, as characters seemed to come and go- three children, for instance, escaping from a zombie-infested child detention centre find a house for shelter and aren’t returned to again, its like the screenwriter forgot them and left that arc completely hanging. Other characters are followed for awhile -the three ‘Cleveland Hipsters’- and then we find later them dead, their grisly fate occurring offscreen which may have seemed an arch commentary on horror tropes but just left me feeling… not frustrated exactly, but so many of the cast are just thrown in and then wasted. And I’m still not certain there was any point to Tilda Swinton’s creepy funeral director turning out to be samurai sword-wielding alien who calls a flying saucer to come pick her up. 

In the end, I was left wondering “why?”, you know, what was the point of the whole thing? There’s certainly some reward from the kooky feel of the place and the characters but its all quite wasted- I suppose its a case of the director not really being the right guy for this particular genre mash-up. I don’t think I’ve seen anything else Jim Jarmusch has directed, but I gather his background is more arthouse, indie material than this kind of thing: I suppose how this turned out would be akin to someone like Terrence Malick making a horror film or a sci-fi film- an intriguing idea but not necessarily resulting in a successful movie. Maybe Dan O’Bannon was more of a genius than anybody gave him credit for. 

The Dead Don’t Die has recently arisen from its box-office grave and shambled onto Netflix here in the UK. Possibly worth a shot at Halloween, maybe.


4 thoughts on “The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    Are you familiar with Jim Jarmusch’s movies otherwise? That might give you an insight into how this ‘works’.

    I am, as Jarmusch was ‘on the syllabus’ as a Cool Director You Should Be Into when I first started getting into movies around 1989. And I stuck with him, doggedly sitting through but not enjoying his films until around the mid 2000s when I realised they were a load of hipster wank.

    I still like Stranger Then Paradise a lot, which is pretty much the only movie of his you ‘need’, but I feel much much happier sitting out the rest.

    1. Oh I’m totally ignorant of Jarmusch, but I can guess from this film what the rest are probably like. Self-indulgent, non-sensical tripe that gets by on whatever approximates ‘arthouse cool’ these days.

  2. Tom

    I would recommend Only Lovers Left Alive — that’s a really solid vampire flick by Jarmusch with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. It’s paced like molasses but then that’s part of the appeal. It’s such a phenomenally well-lived in world that I can’t stop thinking about it, whenever I see the name Jim Jarmusch pop up. It’s the only film of his I’ve seen (I think), and I was really meaning to get to this one but all the negative reviews (some of which were REALLY negative!) ended up scaring me away. (Pun sort of intended.)

  3. Pingback: The 2021 List: June – the ghost of 82

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