Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die presupposes you, the audience, have never watched a zombie comedy before. As if The Return Of The Living Dead, Zombieland, Shaun Of The Dead, Juan Of The Dead – so *flipping* many examples – vanished from existence. The Dead Don’t Die believes itself an invention of subgenre genius, but in actuality, offers nothing new nor furthers zombie cinema by the length of a rotten tooth. A loaded but (widely) misused cast, deadpan atmospheres like a vacuous tonal black hole, and lacking satirical wit assures that The Dead Don’t Die is more lifeless than Iggy Pop’s decapitated corpse.
Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver) are rural Pennsylvania law enforcers. Zelda (Tilda Swinton), the town’s samurai mortician. Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones), the local gas station horror movie buff. All “simple” folk caught in the middle of a fracking phenomenon that throws Earth off its axis, which in turn raises the dead. Racist cattle farmers are seen blasting walkers in the head with shotguns, while Cliff attempts to figure out just what the hell is going on. “Zombies,” Ronnie states matter-of-factly. Unluckily for our “heroes,” he’s right.
From a fundamental comedic standpoint, Jarmusch’s musty-as-death approach paces like classic lumbering zeds. Driver (one pronunciation of “cauliflower” away from his Logan Lucky redneck) and Larry Fessenden attempt to liven droll scenes featuring blank-slate acting à la Jarmusch’s quirky rambler’s direction, but laughs don’t come easy.
As Cliff learns how to properly decapitate the undead, or Scotsman Zelda practices zen swordplay in her funeral parlor dojo, oddities tickle intrigue but never bust a gut. “Deadpan” becomes synonymous with “emotionless,” “situationally dumbfounding,” and “outright unfunny” as dialogue can be predicted before Mindy (Chloë Sevigny) defies yet another age-old zombie flick norm. A meta-comedy devoid of cleverness that tries to get by on George A. Romero Lite commentary and Driver’s adoration for his convertible SmartCar.
“Dead On Arrival” and never resuscitated. Not even by the power of Sturgill Simpson’s replayed original theme tune.
As a zombie mockudrama, The Dead Don’t Die is inexcusably dull. Characters adopt groundbreaking zombie defense practices such as “always kill the head” as if this is brand new information. Jarmusch’s zombies are drawn to their favorite personal effects whilst alive (“Coffee Zombie,” “Fashion Zombie,” “Smartphone Zombie”), attempting some weak riff off Romero’s Land Of The Dead corpser evolution that, once again, acts as if you’re witnessing history unfold anew. Social commentaries are nary subtle, and pale in comparison to stronger world-conscious titles that needn’t require hobo Tom Waits spelling out Jarmusch’s intentions via narration like we’re too stupid to understand.
The *only* new genre note Jarmusch hits is how his zombies don’t squirt blood or spill guts when (re)killed. Slice into (or through) one of these deadies, and black smoke clouds puff outwards. No gore. Sticky practical effects are avoided beyond an initial attack (two diner workers chewed open), presumably in favor of “hilarious” global satire via horror’s lens. Jarmusch misses that target by a country mile.
“But what do you expect from a Jim Jarmusch zombie flick?” Simple: something fresher, morbidly poetic, and absurdly human. Just because it’s a “Jarmusch” production doesn’t mean weightlessness can be ignored. The Dead Don’t Die is a step below “Horror 101,” not even vocal enough to deliver on blatant political commentaries such as Steve Buscemi’s “Keep America White Again” hat or one throwaway line about how fracking *can’t* be to blame because government and environmental officials assure safe practices during press conferences.
Jarmusch only ever steps halfway (or less) into genre skewering meant to be vocally fierce, wildly hilarious, and off-the-wall crazy. Attitudes towards zombie mythologies are adversely basic, character presentations unenthusiastic (Bill Murray channeling his sleepiest Bruce Willis), and ambitions catastrophically safe *even* recounting an Act III “twist” easily foretold.
The Dead Don’t Die is a dry-as-powdered-chalk drag through horror cinema that’s neither a morbidly poignant nightmare nor wink-a-minute metatextual genre riot. With *sincere* regret, words like “boring” and “tired” are best used as descriptors. You’ve witnessed ten thousand zombie comedies rewrite these same jokes, and you’ll witness seven billion more do the same. Jim Jarmusch’s latest never signifies its unique existence among countless zomcom equals, getting lost in a pack of on-the-nose genre “roasts” foiled by their indulgent designs. The dead might not die, but you’ll sure as hell wish this energy-sucked shambles of a horror comedy would.