#REVIEW: “THE DEAD DON’T DIE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Jim Jarmusch is the kind of Director you either love to hate or hate to love. His Films are offbeat at best, and decidedly not Mainstream. He is a Filmmaker who makes movies for himself first and the audience second. And The Dead Don’t Die – which opened the prestigious Cannes Film Festival just over a month ago – is no different.
Something odd is happening in the sleepy town of Centerville. Daylight seems to stretch on forever, and all the clocks and radios seem to be broken. Everyone is confused and it is not immediately clear who or what is causing this to happen – nor is there an explanation for why the dead have suddenly started rising from the ground to feast on the living.
The Cannes reception to The Dead Don’t Die was polarizing. Very few seemed to be on the same wavelength as Jarmusch, and after seeing the Film, it is very easy to see why. Instead of being a straight Zombie picture, the Filmmaker has opted for a satire of Zombie and Disaster movies, and plays on real world fears and innate human stupidity for the bulk of his laughs. A few of these moments land quite well and are genuinely hilarious. But the bulk of the other jokes land with a complete thud, eliciting more confusion than giggles. And when he starts layering in as many meta jokes as he can (including a cheap Star Wars gag involving Adam Driver), it becomes very clear that The Dead Don’t Die feels more like a collection of ideas, thought starters and on-set improvisation that has been strung together rather than a cohesive 105-minute movie.
And do not get me started on Jarmusch’s bizarre fascination with the titular track by Sturgill Simpson, which somehow becomes a punch line used by just about every single Actor who speaks for more than three lines and predictably becomes less funny each time.
Driver and Jarmusch regular Bill Murray make the best of things despite all of this, putting in some truly wonderful deadpan performances. They are keenly in tune with whatever Jarmusch is going for and merge seamlessly into the tonal pivots he throws at them. We do not get to learn much about their characters, but we get to gleam quite a bit of fun from everything they go through. Also of note is Tilda Swinton, who gives one of the most outlandish performances of her career as a sword wielding morgue attendant. She steals the show every chance she gets and has a blast playing this completely ridiculous character. I just wish the same could be said for the stellar Supporting Cast featuring the likes of Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, RZA and Selena Gomez. Some of these players get some laughs, but the majority are all but completely wasted and practically pointless.
When The Dead Don’t Die works, it is an intriguing Satire that can be a lot of fun. But that only happens for a small fraction of its running time and the final product feels more like a collection of unfinished ideas versus a fully formed film. And while Driver, Murray and Swinton are having a great time playing in Jarmusch’s sandbox, there are very few other Actors on-screen sharing their sentiment. But maybe that was the whole point of it all?
Universal Pictures Canada release THE DEAD DON’T DIE on Friday, June 14, 2019.