Eric’s Review: The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
★★ out of ★★★★★
It was bound to be a curiosity. A famous auteur art-house director, gifted with an all-star cast and a classic zombie tale, what could go wrong? Plenty.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

The opening movie at the Overlook film festival was making its US debut, with much fanfare in front of a packed audience. Director Jim Jarmusch, (Down by Law, Stranger than Paradise, Midnight Train, Ghost Dog) the darling of film school students the world over was doing a zombie movie, has some genre credibility for having recently directed the vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive. The roster of performers was a jaw dropping ensemble including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Larry Fessenden, Steve Buscemi, RZA, Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop, and Tom Waits (whew…)

It should have come as an ominous warning sign that neither the director nor any of the actors (except Larry Fessenden, here to present his own movie Depraved) showed up for the US Premiere. Given that much of the horror genre press was in attendance, and it was a highlighted film in one of the major genre festivals, the production arrived with very little confidence.

Sheriff Robinson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver) are two prototype small town law officers whose biggest issues are squabbles about chicken poaching between neighbors. When a pair of zombies (Sara Driver and Iggy Pop) descend upon the local diner, it unleashes a new mystery for the duo to investigate. Deadpan and wry insights ensue, and multiple cameo appearances are made as characters fall to a small zombie horde… and Tilda Swinton turns out to have been an alien. Ceterville becomes overrun by zombies as the aformentioned all-star cast get mowed down. Suprised? Not really. Or rather, it doesn’t really matter.

In a word, the film was dull. It wasn’t scary and it wasn’t particularly memorable. I found myself nodding off at multiple points during the film. Jet lag? Maybe. Not enough coffee? Perhaps. But if I’m being honest with myself, the droll scripting of a Jarmusch art-house film was destined to be a bit of a chore to get through, and the b-grade sensibilities that it tried to tap into weren’t gonzo enough.

The humor, on occasion spikes through, and the occasional clever insight from Murray or Driver prevents this movie from being completely dead on arrival. There were moments that had the entire audience laughing, and the Murray’s patented satirical timing cut through the script. But, like Garfield, that alone can’t carry a movie. The story-line was threadbare, even for a zombie film, and it self-consciously apes tropes Romero movies, but the references were tired and flat. It has the feeling a movie put together in a rush to get a bunch of actors together who were in town for a weekend, and wanted to work with Jarmusch.

Expectations for this film was sky high, and sadly, it didn’t get much further than lift off.

The Dead Don’t Die is rated R, for language and gore, but it’s not particularly gross, beyond what you might see on The Walking Dead.

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