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The Dead Don’t Die review: watchable but easily forgotten

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The Dead Don’t Die, or so the song goes. It’s the same song we hear at least four times during Jim Jarmusch’s latest feature film. 

Representing a stab at a genre film and the ever-popular zombie apocalypse romp, Jim’s assembled an all-star cast including the likes of usual collaborators, Bill Murray and now Adam Driver, bringing in Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones and Selena Gomez to name a few. There are also minor roles for the ever cool Tom Waits, awkward and out of sorts master Steve Buscemi and shirtless punk icon Iggy Pop. So, the hype train was fired up from the moment the cast got announced. Unfortunately, the train probably should have stayed in the station much longer.

For those who are familiar with the films of Jim Jarmusch, you’ll know his films often have a poetic resilience and an almost spiritual guile. The Dead Don’t Die lacked the intimacy of Patterson, the mysticism of Only Lovers Left Alive, the fresh combat style of Ghost Dog missing and would have welcomed some of that wit from Night on Earth. The Dead Don’t Die is a faintly funny running commentary on American society through the metaphor of the undead – it really lacks the strengths Jarmusch is known for. 

Deadpan to the point of painfully self-aware, the cast put in shifts to carry the undercooked story but can only do so much as the allegory simmers to fairly absurd and by the time it does, it’s not justified. 

Tilda Swinton’s character, for example, a Scottish mortician who wields a samurai sword and has quirky dialogue, is something totally different from the entirety of the story. While Adam Driver and Bill Murray are a team we might like to see again, they could have done with some help from the plot and the lack of meta scripting where they seemingly know they’re in a movie, with Driver sure “it’s all going to end badly.” Though this movie will never be considered a hit for Jarmusch, it still remains a straightforward watch, an average movie if ever there was one, sadly tinged with ‘what could have been’. 

Notable cameos from Selena Gomez brings us something we probably never thought we’d see… Caleb Landry Jones continues to build upon his impressive filmography in regards to working with known auteurs (Cronenberg, Lynch, The Coen Bros, Fincher, Peele, Baker and McDonagh to name just a few), there’s still some light charm to the film, but that’s all really. 

Sturgill Simpson provides, at first, a decent country theme song that suits the small-town America story, but it’s overplayed to the point even Murray’s character throws the CD out the cop car window. Some fairly unimpressive CGI and effects let the make-up on Iggy Pop’s riddled corpse down, though some prosthetic body horror is preferable, Jim just phoned most of this in. 

The Dead Don’t Die, they just want tennis, coffee, fashion and brains. 

2.5/5 flicks

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