I’m not the biggest fan of zombie films, especially when they’re by-the-numbers brain-eating gore-fests, or tired re-treads of ‘humanity is the real monster’ trope (looking at you, “The Walking Dead”) so I’m pleased to say that Jim Jarmusch has avoided all of those tired clichés with his trademark mischievous wit.
As the end of the world is brought about by unregulated corporations conducting ‘polar fracking’, the sleepy town of Centerville finds itself at ground zero for a zombie apocalypse as the dead begin rising from the grave.
Infused with the laid-back gravitas of Bill Murray and the lackadaisical intensity of Adam Driver, “The Dead Don’t Die” is something of a curiosity. It openly acknowledges that the world is ending and the dead stalk the land yet it never once misses the opportunity to be resolutely silly about it all. Having sketched out its oddball cast of characters, including a scene-stealing Scottish samurai turn from Tilda Swinton, the stage seems set for some desperate race to convince everyone of the danger yet the fact of a zombie outbreak is accepted in such a delightfully sanguine way by almost everyone that it puts the film on a very different (shambling) footing. It’s basically a movie of that scene from The Simpson’s Treehouse Of Horror III.
Jarmusch is careful not to mock the horror genre but nor does he feel the need to commit to it, or indeed keep the fourth wall intact as he skewers the zombies as a metaphor for consumerism in blatant style by having his undead eschew brains in favour of whatever consumer brands or goods they craved in life. While Murray and Driver provide the heart, Swinton is the brains of the operation, cutting a swathe through the story towards an ending that’s as bonkers and amusing as it’s sure to be divisive (although if you don’t like the ending, you absolutely can’t say you weren’t warned). The cavalcade of celebrity cameos that fall victim to the undead are good value too but it’s Jarmusch’s clever and irreverent script that provides the lifeblood of the entertainment on offer.
Daftly clever and cunningly absurd, “The Dead Don’t Die” may offer poor sustenance to the bloodthirsty zombie fanbase but it provides a banquet for fans of Jarmusch’s idiosyncratic filmmaking.