Cannes 2019: The Dead Don't Die
The star-studded The Dead Don't Die is exactly the kind of zombie movie you would expect from Jim Jarmusch, for better or for worse
Jim Jarmusch was never going to make a regular zombie flick. A Jarmusch zombie doesn't bleed, but explodes in a puff of smoke. A Jarmusch zombie eats human flesh, but also gravitates towards the things they cherished when they were alive, whether that's Wi-Fi or chardonnay. The zombie apocalypse didn't begin because of a virus, but from the Earth shifting on its axis due to polar fracking.
The film is so intent on being smarter than its predecessors, its characters even know they’re in one. When the croon of Sturgill Simpson’s song The Dead Don’t Die plays over the radio, police chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) asks why it sounds familiar. “Because it’s the theme song,” his partner Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) replies. This self-awareness pervades The Dead Don’t Die, but there's a distinction between a film that is smart and a film that thinks it's smart. Outrageous fourth-wall breaking should be in service of something. It's not here.
Like the simplistic joys of Jarmusch's previous film Paterson, The Dead Don't Die thrives when it observes the idiosyncratic inner-workings of small-town life. The film takes time to acquaint ourselves with the town's eclectic residents like Caleb Landry Jones's nerdy gas station clerk or the local hermit played by Tom Waits. Tilda Swinton is the scene-stealer, as a Scottish samurai sword-wielding coroner.
The Dead Don’t Die boasts a mighty ensemble cast, but it spreads itself too thin as a result. If most of its actors are underserved, its women are even more so. Chloë Sevigny is the de facto scream queen, while Selena Gomez plays a hipster from Cleveland whose only purpose is to be gawked at.
'We've all been zombified' is the ultimate hypothesis. Humanity is even more simple-minded than the undead. But none of this zom-com's deadpan wisecracks feel deserving of such a lofty message. The Dead Don't Die is exactly the kind of zombie movie you would expect from Jim Jarmusch, for better or for worse.
The Dead Don't Die had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival – for more Cannes coverage, click here
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