BIFF Review: The Dead Don’t Die

Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch has always been an interesting and unique voice in cinema. By that measure, The Dead Don’t Die certainly is interesting and unique but whether that equates to how good it is doesn’t entirely apply here.

In the small town of Centerville, a zombie outbreak has started as a result of polar fracking to which the local community is overall nonplussed by and the film is. As you may have guessed; The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie-comedy but don’t let that description mislead you. This isn’t a fast-paced horror spoof like Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead; this has a much more deadpan (no pun intended) sense of humour. A majority of the jokes are very meta by nature, mocking zombie flick tropes as much as it mocks itself and it ultimately ends up feeling as if it is too self-aware for its own good. For example, a Sturgill Simpson song entitled; ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ plays throughout various scenes, leaving Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) confused and unable to place his familiarity with the song only for Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) to simply explain that’s because it’s the film’s theme song. It riffs on the works of classic horror visionaries such as George Romero but rarely diverts from simply winking at these movies as opposed to making anything of substance out of these nods. By the end, there’s no going back and all these elements are dialed up to 11 but by that point it’s either a total shark-jump or a natural end punchline to go out on depending on your thoughts on everything prior. 

Bill Murray and Adam Driver are at the forefront here, patrolling the town as they try to make sense of all that is going on around them. This is hardly Murray’s first foray with ‘ghouls’ (as Officer Ronnie describes the undead) but surprisingly enough, its Driver who carries the best comedic moments. He’s so dry in his delivery and brings a great casual charm to the role that’s just hysterical in contrast to the foreboding threat of the zombies. It is ultimately an ensemble effort though. With a cast that contains the likes of Tom Waits, Selena Gomez, Tilda Swinton, RZA, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi (to name a few); there’s so much fun that comes from seeing all these actors interact with one another. Tilda Swindon is the one who reigns supreme here as the town’s eccentric undertaker with a penchant for samurai swords. Her performance is so measured and exact that she steals every scene she’s in, fitting in perfectly with the film’s absurd yet dry wit.

How to go about recommending The Dead Don’t Die is a difficult task to contemplate. The cast and script definitely take precedence over zombie gore and terror, making it difficult to pitch to horror fans. The humour is incredibly deadpan but still ultimately lacks any subtlety to land anything for those looking for a comedy. Jim Jarmusch fans may even be disappointed with his style ending up somewhat lost in a muddy and inconsistent overall product. Yet despite all this, I can’t help but think it deserves your time. Despite its shortcomings, it does have merit as an oddball comedy that’s worth checking out if you’re at least somewhat intrigued by what it has to offer.


Promotional image obtained from: Universal Pictures (2019), The Dead Don’t Die.
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Luka Katic
Luka Katic

Luka is a Brisbane-based (Meanjin) writer and filmmaker. He is currently in his final year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film, Screen and New Media).

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