Like George Romero partook in a heap of peyote and wrote the script to Night Of The Living Dead while in an absurdist frame of mind, Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die is a very loose zombie comedy that shuffles along much like it’s decomposing protagonists. The indie filmmaker’s breezy, easy style has entertained cinemagoers on a similar, idiosyncratic wavelength for years now, scoring kudos for everything from the trippy western Dead Man, to the trippy Ghost Dog and while a relentless pace and focused characters aren’t exactly part of his directorial tool box, there’s something oddly comforting about that laconic, sarcastic style. It’s just that maybe a broader horror/comedy pallet doesn’t quite fit Jarmusch’s particular quirky vision.
Thanks to polar fracking the earth has tumbled off it’s axis which has caused day to turn to night and vice versa, the moon to crackle with a purple aura and – wouldn’t you know it – the dead to reanimate and rise from their graves. Two zombies (one of whom is Jarmusch regular is Iggy Pop) kick start a lazily plodding apocalypse in the sparsely populated town of Centreville and citizens of the town struggle to understand what’s going on before they become corpse-chow. Only the subdued police chief and his equally subdued deputy (what am I talking about? EVERYONE’S subdued in this movie) have any clue what’s going on but can they have any chance of stopping a full on zombie attack when they can’t even work out who stole one of Farmer Frank’s chickens?
While not exactly essential Zombie movie viewing (it’s not really even essential Jarmusch viewing), there is still nuggets of genius scattered throughout it’s runtime to keep things interesting, one of them being the director’s affinity of referencing classic images from older horror movies. When was the last time you watched a zombie movie when one of the rotting bastards actually crawled out of an honest to God grave; not even Romero’s classic dead trilogy contained that! Plus Night Of The Living Dead is visually referenced and name checked liberally (interestingly, as is Phantasm thanks to Tilda Swinton’s gloriously oddball mortician) as the jerky, loping undead limp through fine mist and gradually overrun the town.
The key word there, however, is “gradually” as The Dead Don’t Die is not some rip-roaring, fast-paced, experiment in bad taste, along the lines of Zombieland or Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse. Take note that this movie is deliberately oddly off beat that aims more for internalised chuckles than the full on belly laughs and I predict most film goers will turn up expecting and might actually piss off casual horror fans. While this isn’t entirely the film’s fault (it IS Jarmusch’s style after all) the film does lag when it isn’t scoring class jokes involving Adam Driver and Bill Murray becoming increasingly meta about the plot or RZA driving a delivery van with WU-PS on the side, and despite the starry cast some characters simply don’t land (Cholë Sevigny’s hysterical deputy is just annoying), the zombies just aren’t that funny and an outlandish twist (which is telegraphed throughout the film) that deliberately goes nowhere will mist likely be the last straw for anyone who has little patience for such a strange tone; think the Coen Brothers at their most obtuse, times it by two and then keep going.
An original experience to be sure – but maybe not one that most people are going to want to have with their zombie movies – The Dead Don’t Die is only sporadically funny and weirdly interesting but ultimately moves far too slow to put the bite on it’s audience.