The Dead Don't Die (2019) Movie Review
The new zomcom The Dead Don’t Die feels exactly what a summer movie shouldn’t feel like. It’s the decaying zombie meat in the Shaft/Men In Black summer sandwich opening this weekend. If you’re even thinking about seeing it, you should do it as soon as possible since it will more than likely be in theaters for about 2 weeks max. You’ve got to make room for the Toy Stories and whatever fifteen new Marvel movies open in the next two months.
Does DDD (what I’m calling Dead Don’t Die from now on because I don’t feel like writing Dead Don’t Die even though I just wrote Dead Don’t Die twice. Nope, thrice) break any new ground in the zombie genre? Nope. It doesn’t even break new ground in the zombie-comedy with-Bill-Murray genre.
But it is enough of a diversion when you want to get away from the tepid summer blockbusters that have been released this summer so far. And it’s not Dark Phoenix.
This synopsis should come as no surprise to anybody that’s ever seen a zombie movie in their life.
Since this movie is written and directed by indie auteur Jim Jarmusch ( Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers, 1995s atrocious Johnny Depp snoozer Dead Man) the zombies won’t be the only thing that will come to you slow and meandering.
We’re in the sleepy town of Centerville. It’s a town with only three police officers, but it really only needs two. Or one.
Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) are called in to observe a strange occurrence. Animals are dying in the forest. Not that that’s odd, but someone called to say that the local hermit named Hermit Bob (Jarmusch regular Tom Waits, wearing what he usually wears) is killing them. Cliff disagrees. Though Hermit Bob is odd, he’s not a killer and hasn’t done anything illegal in the fifty years Cliff has known him.
If being odd is a crime, then everybody in Centerville would be arrested.
Hermit Bob shoots at Cliff and Ronnie, but that’s okay too because it’s just Bob being Bob. He hasn’t committed a crime worth being arrested for.
As Cliff and Ronnie drive away, they do think it’s strange so many animals are dying. Maybe it has something to with the earth being knocked off its axis. It’s being reported on the news a lot so it must be important to the plot somehow.
While Cliff and Ronnie ponder dead animals and an off-balance axis, let’s meet the other citizens of Centerville as most of them won’t be around for much longer…
- Farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi)- His animals are being eaten and he’s a MAGA hat wearing racist. Um, he’s a racist because he’s a racist, not because he wears a MAGA hat. Just in case you were triggered.
- Hank Thompson (Danny Glover)- He owns the local hardware store and is black. He’s not Farmer Frank Miller’s best friend, in case you were wondering.
- Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny)- She’s a cop, but not a very good one.
- Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton)- She runs the local morgue and is very good with a kitana. She is very strange, which for Centerville is really saying something. It looks like Jim Jarmusch didn’t take a lot of time thinking up character names for the performers.
- Posie Juarez (Rosie Perez)- She’s a local news anchor and it looks like Jim Jarmusch didn’t take a lot of time thinking up character names for the performers.
We’ll get to sort of know each and every one of these characters before any zombies show up because it’s Jim Jarmusch and he’s…taking…his…time.
I haven’t even mentioned Selena Gomez. What she’s doing in a zombie movie? I have no idea.
But before the day is through, hands will bust out from the ground and zombies will pop up. You’ll hear characters say, “Kill the head!!!” as if they’ve never seen a zombie movie before. You’ll also see an A-list cast do Jim Jarmusch a favor by taking huge pay cuts to be in this movie.
And you’ll hear that effing song…
What Works With The Dead Don’t Die
- A scene-stealing Tilda Swinton provides the movie’s biggest laughs, whether she’s chopping zombie heads or saying anything in that Scottish accent, there are times when you wish Jim Jarmusch had written an entire movie about “Zelda Winston”. I have a theory that Tilda Swinton has no idea she’s been in a movie for over 10 years and that her performances in Only Lovers Left Alive and last fall’s Suspiria remake where just things she did in her everyday life that somebody just happened to film.
- It’s not Dark Phoenix. Sorry if you watched that last week.
- Jarmusch veterans Bill Murray and Adam Driver shine in their scenes together because they’re fun to watch as actors. They make Jarmusch’s twistedly mumblecore dialogue work even if you’re wondering why the movie isn’t better paced than it is.
- You never really laugh-out-loud during DDD, but you’re rarely bored and you so spend most of the running time laughing quietly to yourself. You’re even kind of blindsided by random meta-references pulled out of the air.
What Doesn’t Work
- A rambling first act in which Jarmusch and Co. don’t realize they should be making a zombie movie. Either that or they don’t care. It’s not bad per se, but you do find yourself checking your watch wondering if anything is going to happen.
- Scenes set up in a children’s home do nothing but take you away from the indie All-Star cast you paid good money to see.
- Of the primary actors, only Chloe Sevigny (Lizzie, Boys Don’t Cry) feels like a distraction because her character is so poorly written. Every choice her character makes leaves you wondering “Why is this person allowed to be a police officer?” It’s not something you’d normally think during a zombie movie, but this zombie movie gives you a lot of time to think.
- I like Sturgill Simpson as much as the next person, but I don’t really need to hear the theme song seventeen times during the movie. Shoot me in the head.
The Dead Don’t Die is exactly what you’d expect from a Jim Jarmusch movie. Not really what you’d expect from a zombie movie. Combined they make for a completely passable viewing experience. See it now before Chucky or Buzz Lightyear takes its place in theaters.
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© 2019 Noel Penaflor