Thursday 21 November 2019

Film Review: The Dead Don't Die

A humble town in Middle America is overrun by ghoulish zombies in Jim Jarmusch’s fiercely political comedy, The Dead Don’t Die.

Word to the wise – if you’re unfamiliar with the works of Jim Jarmusch, approach The Dead Don’t Die with caution. This isn’t your typical zom-com in the same vein as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. In fact, the zombies in Jarmusch’s film are merely incidental – a plot device for his sprawling ensemble cast to contend with while the film hammers home its actual message.

The film is fragmented across several subplots that overlap throughout the 104-minute runtime. You’ve got Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny as police officers Robertson, Peterson and Morrison; Steve Buscemi as a racist farmer; Tilda Swinton as a Scottish mortician; Caleb Landry Jones as an introverted cinephile; Tom Waits as grizzled hermit; and Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat as three city hippies on a rural road trip, amongst a suite of other characters.

Rather than indulging in gleeful gore, The Dead Don’t Die is a sluggish shuffle that lacks a pulse. Jarmusch – renowned for his pedestrian pacing – is an ill fit for the genre, draining it of energy and supplanting it with a slow lament about environmental decay, political inaction and the all-pervading sense of doom that pervades our contemporary media landscape. Sounds like a hoot, right?

Don’t get me wrong, zombies have long been an allegory for broader, despairing themes – but here that’s all there is. Broad, all-encompassing desolation and disaster. If I wanted to see that, I’d just turn on the news. Where are the characters and story arcs to latch onto? Every character is deadpan and aimless; every other joke is a half-hearted attempt at breaking the fourth wall; every subplot goes nowhere.

The redeeming factors – namely, Murray and Driver make an entertaining double act – are far outweighed by a gloomy ‘plot’ (for want of a better word) that lacks any semblance of structure or subtlety.

The Verdict: 4/10

I wanted to like this film – after all, there is a scene where Swinton wields a katana and drives a Smart car through hordes of the undead – but can’t recommend it unless you’re a Jarmusch devotee or a glutton for punishment.

The Dead Don't Die is screening at the Somerville Auditorium from December 2 to 8 as part of Perth Festival's Lotterywest Films program.

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