Original Name: The Dead Don’t Die
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Debut at: May 2019 (103 min)
Country: USA (English)
IMDB Link: https://imdb.com/title/tt8695030/
With all due respect, The Dead Don’t Die is my least favorite Jarmusch’s film so far.
That’s not to say it’s a bad film. Far from it. The Dead Don’t Die imprints many of his trademarks: gorgeous cinematography, ear-worm tunes, dry sense of humor and deadpan deliveries. It’s also endearing and funny, and it’s a refreshing take from a well-worn zombie genre. But unlike most of his other films, it suffers – instead of gaining – from repetition, too much self-awareness and its social satire lacks bite. Its concept is simple. One day, the globe spins off its axis that causes the day stays longer and the undead raises from the ground. While there’s heap of fun details from the film (as one of the character said: “The world is perfect. Appreciate the details”), its concept unfortunately stays out of its welcome halfway point.
Jim Jarmusch is certainly no stranger in inserting self-awareness narrative in his films, but in The Dead Don’t Die, he pushes that too far off the line. Take the titular song, “The Dead Don’t Die” by Sturgill Simpson for example. At one point, Ronnie (Adam Driver) tells Cliff (Bill Murray), who felt the tune sound familiar, that it is a theme song of a movie (this movie). Inside Jokes like that, along with the one comes much later when Ronnie said he had read the script, are amusing at first, but at the expense of its credulity. Quite fittingly, both Bill Murray and Adam River act like they’re in a movie. Being a zombie movie, all the characters’ mindset when these strange events happen isn’t “what the hell is going on”, but more along the line of “aim for the heads”. It doesn’t help that most of the characters don’t have anything meaningful to be in this picture (well, except for Tilda Winston’s samurai girl). Cameos are stacked up but nothing more than just a wink of the audience. Selena Gomez, the three kids, Iggy Pop spend their time without much to say.
It’s not that The Dead Don’t Die isn’t without its meaning. Its social satire on human behaviour – when the zombie raised from the dead, they act according to what they’re obsessed the most, that includes: chardonnay, baseball, internet, selfie… and the current affair sounds much like these undead that swarm that world and refuse to die. The film suffers, though, when it can’t draw anything else beyond its absurd message. The repetitiveness drags the film down as well. Take the scenes where Cliff, Ronnie, and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) go through the same motion (and facial expression) when they witness the corpses at the diner. It’s funny the first time, become stale the second time and become boring when nothing new is added the last time.
In term of production, The Dead Don’t Die will please any of Jarmusch’s hardcore fan. It looks fantastic, the soundtrack is catchy and the cinematography draws the most out of the cast’s deadpan (read: emotionless) facial expression. There are references to the old classic horror films, but then again, without much substance. At the end of the day, I’d regard The Dead Don’t Die as nothing more than “amusement”. It’s always hilarious but it’s inconsistent, it’s sometimes relevant but it doesn’t pack its punch. It has something to say but it’s content on surfing the water instead of diving down. For filmmaker that is always making things fresh like Jarmusch, the film is a slight disappointment.