When there’s no more room in hell
Small sleepy American towns are often the standard victims of horror films. Unless you’re Stephen King in which case Maine is the most cursed, evil riddled, hellscape of a state. In the case of Jim Jarmusch it’s the fictional population of Centerville who fall victim to an outbreak of the undead brought about by polar fracking, possibly. Sadly this small sleepy town sets the tone for this plodding “comedy” horror which shuffles along slower than a reanimated Iggy Pop.
After watching the trailer with the “greatest zombie cast ever disassembled” I had high hopes, but it becomes clear very quickly that the trailer has cherry-picked the best bits and is thoroughly misleading. I was expecting something more in the vein of a Wes Anderson film, maybe because of the presence of Anderson veterans Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray, but they and the rest of the cast feel a bit wasted in this zom-com horror that fails to launch.
I’ve only seen one other Jim Jarmusch film, vampire comedy-drama film Only Lovers Left Alive, another Tilda Swinton vehicle and another slow burner where not a great deal happens. The only thing that got me through that film was the sheer onscreen presence of Swinton, and while Hiddleston was definitely giving it the full emo treatment at least there wasn’t any twinkling in the sunlight bullshit.
With The Dead Don’t Die, it’s fair to say that Tilda once again steals the show and is reliably one of the most amusing things about the film. Adam Driver also shows some comedy prowess, and I do have to give this film at least one star for giving me the pure and beautiful image of Driver driving a Smart car. Bill Murray however, seems a bit lost and his delivery wavers from brilliantly deadpan to just plain dead.
In fact like the zombies, there’s just something fundamentally dead and soulless about this film. Maybe that’s the point, but it doesn’t make for a particularly entertaining hour and 45 minutes.
I get that Jarmusch’s style is a bit on the ponderous side, and he enjoys his awkward silences and still shots but this gets tedious fast. The re-use of the same shots over and over feels lazy and only makes the pacing of this film feel even slower. Some of the characters are little more than stereotypes and played with all the enthusiasm of a corpse. You could argue that this is riffing off the standard zombie movie protagonists, and the lacklustre performances are a gentle mockery of the old B movies, but there’s something missing. Charm, heart, brains even! and it just feels like a waste of an amazing cast.
If I’m honest, it got to the point where I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a spoof or a celebration of other zombie films.
If it’s supposed to be a celebration then it’s a poor one with wrinkly balloons and mouldy sandwiches. References to George A Romero are either clumsy or explained like a bad comedian going through the logic of a joke and why you should be laughing. It takes the central theme of consumerism from Dawn of the Dead and beats you around the head with it. Instead of the standard lust for brains and human flesh the Dead Don’t Die zombies are all about the desires and trappings of modern life. They shamble around moaning the words “coffee”, “WiFi” and “Siri” and while the whole “people today are just zombies” allegory is definitely not a new one, I found Jarmusch’s attempt at social commentary insulting at best.
As a spoof it’s a bit of a lame duck. It starts promisingly enough with a bit of fourth-wall breaking, but the pacing is just too slow and the humour either falls flat, or like a drunk elderly relative at a wedding, is just plain embarrassing. There were some brilliant moments of comedy, the aforementioned Adam Driver in a tiny car and literally every scene involving Tilda Swinton as a Scottish Samurai mortician.
However, while it’s entirely feasible that Scottish morticians exist, and some may well practice Samurai skills as a hobby, what happens at the end of the film is so ridiculously hatstand and unwarrantedly bonkers that I fully gave up even trying to find positives about this train wreck of a film.
Driver’s constant interjections of “this isn’t going to end well” became annoying, Chloe Sevigny deserved better, and the plotline of the three teenagers in a detention centre fizzled out to nothing and was ultimately pointless.
Tom Waits roams around as an expositional hobo who growls things about ants and other significant unnatural occurrences to explain away the rise of the undead. He also acts as a kind of Tarantino-esque narrator, providing random commentary on what’s happening in case you didn’t fully understand what was going on, and explaining why people are generally the worst and why being a hobo is the best.
By the finale, I realised that any emotional investment I had in any of the remaining characters had fully evaporated and I simply didn’t care about their fate. So when the credits finally did roll I felt a surge of relief, annoyance and the desire to watch a good zombie film with Bill Murray in it.
One of the main things that bugs me about this film is that it has all the hallmarks of “a cult hit” and not in a good way. It was nominated for a whole host of awards at the Cannes Film Festival which lends it a certain amount of credibility and there will be those who will hold it in high regard as some sort of thought-provoking satire on the ills of capitalism.
Even though the film pokes fun at hipsters, it’s undoubtedly hipsters who will love this and spout phrases like “post-modern irony” or claim that you just don’t understand it, like those amped up Rick and Morty fans who worship it like it’s some sort of grand philosophical piece of work that you couldn’t possibly truly enjoy unless you were some sort of tortured, manically depressed nihilist.
Personally I’m an anxiety-riddled determinist, but as a Film Studies graduate who had to write essays on the Marxist themes in the Matrix films, I’d rather just enjoy things as a piece of entertainment without having to look for deeper hidden meanings and I’m sorry Jim, I just didn’t enjoy this.
TBG Score: 3.5/10