The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
In the year 2019, if you’re thinking of making a zombie movie you better have a damn good idea for how to set it apart from the lifeless hordes of zombie media that one can consume any given year. Early trailers for Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” failed to convince me that it would be unique enough to justify its creation, despite the fans who were simply excited for Jarmusch’s take on the zombie comedy. Personally, only having seen two of the director’s efforts before (I found “Only Lovers Left Alive” to be forgettable and “Paterson” to be insufferable), I wasn’t getting my hopes up. What I found wasn’t necessarily bad, but disappointing. “The Dead Don’t Die” wastes almost all of its incredible acting talent, save for Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Caleb Landry Jones. Stars like Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Waits are all given characters that fit awkwardly between cameo and supporting role. If they’d each had one hilarious scene, awesome—that’s a great cameo. If they had been given proper individual storylines and enough screen time to take their character on a meaningful journey of some kind, cool—they could have been supporting players. Instead, they’re each in the film enough to be real characters, but not enough to have arcs that audiences can care about. One of the storylines doesn’t even end; it’s left hanging when the credits start to roll. One character’s story is given a unsatisfactory off-screen ending. And still more of the characters’ arcs are just so pointless you question the point of including them in the first place.
There are plenty of jokes in “The Dead Don’t Die,” and more than a few of them hit. Murray and Driver bounce perfectly timed lines back and forth. Sometimes they’re almost too deadpan, if that makes any sense. They often seem lifeless or dispassionate, but I think it was probably part of their direction. Buscemi wears a hysterical red baseball cap that made me laugh more than anything that was said in the movie. The cause of the zombie apocalypse is so absurd, and so lazily introduced, I have to imagine it was meant as a joke. “The Dead Don’t Die” also tears down the fourth wall, and once it comes down there’s no rebuilding it. That leads to some distracting plot holes that would’ve been fine if you weren’t thinking the whole time about how there’s no fourth wall. But this is the way Jarmusch is fit to operate. He’s not so much concerned that everything makes sense, as long as the movie is just absurd enough to make people laugh. And sometimes, it is. I just wish they could’ve gotten the laughs without forsaking the plot.