THE DEAD DON’T DIE
(Be aware. We’ve dug up some spoilers) Jim Jarmusch made his bones creating movies well outside the mainstream. Although he’s become a big name director in certain circles, Hollywood stars flock to be in his movies, and his budgets may have become a little bigger, Jarmusch has never lost the independent spirit that made his movies some of the best committed to film. In The Dead Don’t Die, Jarmusch has gathered up his usual suspects with the addition of a couple new faces, to take on the zombie apocalypse.
Many people, even professed Jarmusch fans, were expecting the typical zombie fare. Unfortunately, these fans were disappointed. There’s no Rick Grimes leading a band of survivors to certain doom. Zombies are not learning how to use guns and there are no undead ladders being made for zombies to climb over city walls. If you were looking for that kind of movie it’s best to walk away before you even start. The Dead Don’t Die is unlike any other zombie movie you have seen before or will likely ever to again.
The first clue that your watching something different are the characters. To be more precise it’s the characters knowledge of the world they are in. Police officer Ronnie (Adam Driver) casually drops that the song playing on the squad car’s radio is the theme song to the movie. The statement isn’t elaborated and the subject is dropped as soon as it’s brought up. As the movie moves along more crumbs are dropped that the characters recognize they’re in a movie. Cliff (Bill Murray) asks Ronnie if “he’s gone off script.” Again, nothing further is mentioned until the end of the movie. As Cliff and Ronnie are surrounded by zombies Ronnie drops the bomb that “Jim” let him read the whole script.
It’s a pretty bold move having your characters acknowledge to the audience that they know they’re in a movie. Even dropping the director’s name into the movie is a bold move. Adam Driver and Bill Murray may be the only people in the movie who know they’re in a movie, but they never break character. Some movies may have broken the fourth wall (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), but more often than not the joke is carried way too far. Jarmusch lets the fact simmer and gnaw at the audience.
You can’t ignore the horror elements in the movie, it’s a zombie movie after all. Weird things start happening from the very beginning of the movie: The days are longer, livestock starts to disappear, domestic animals turn feral, and the earth is thrown off its axis due to polar fracking. All these weird events lead to two zombies (Iggy Pop, Sara Driver) in need of caffeine rising from the dead. From there it’s all down hill. Centerville, and the world, is over run by zombies.
Zombies and zombie movies have taken on a life of their own. George R. Romero never intended for The Night of the Living Dead to be an analogy for race relations in the 1960’s. Fifty years later everyone is convinced his original intent was to comment on race relations. Many film makers have made the analogy that we’re all zombies. We’re all slaves to consumerism and the need to own things and more things.
Jarmusch doesn’t say anything new in The Dead Don’t Die. The destruction of the planet isn’t a new idea nor is a narrator telling the audience we’re all doomed for our ways or we were zombies all the long. What Jarmusch has done is create a world where anything can and does happen. A world where the ridiculousness of zombies is exposed and a UFO appears out of nowhere to abduct, or take home, a samurai wielding mortician. The Dead Don’t Die is a movie where the characters are more important than the zombies eating through the population.
The Dead Don’t Die may not be the scary movie people thought it was going to be when it was first announced Jarmusch was doing another horror movie. It may only appeal to a certain few and not all professed Jarmusch fans. Those who do decide to watch Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die are in for a tasty treat of solid acting, some creepy vibes, and one heck of an ending.