Jim Jarmusch covered vampires in 2014 with “Only Lovers Left Alive” and now after drawing inspiration from George A. Romero, the indie king sets his sights on zombies, ghouls, the undead.
“The Dead Don’t Die” doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a diversion for the filmmaker responsible for such gems as “Broken Flowers,” “Ghost Dog -The Way of the Samurai,” and most recently “Paterson.” Think of the comedy as the bonus track of a greatest hits package featuring several Jarmusch regulars. It may lack frights but not laughs and with a cast like this, you can bet it’s headed for midnight movie cult status.
There are so many Romero references in “The Dead Don’t Die” that you’ll probably miss a few of them. Jarmusch was never a fan of zombie films (he feels vampires are sexier and more interesting) but the auteur has lots of respect for Romero who changed the game forever.
This film serves as a tribute to the zombie king and an excuse to get this great cast together. Again, if you're looking for chills and a great plot, forget about it. There are however plenty of gory scenes (in true Romero fashion) to appease fans of the genre, a fantastic score by SQÜRL (aka Jim Jarmusch & Chris Logan) that sustains the creepy ambiance, and a wonderful theme song by Sturgill Simpson, which Adam Driver points out to Bill Murray while breaking the fourth wall.
The setting is a small town called Centerville, where the local police force, Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny), is busy checking on Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) who reportedly stole a chicken from Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi), a right-wing conservative who sports a red baseball cap that reads “Keep America White Again.”
Nothing really happens in this slice of down-home America but all of that is about to change thanks to something called Polar Fracking. The sun shines at night, the moon glows, and yes the dead begin to rise.
As pointed out in Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” the zombies are drawn to something they loved while they were alive. Jarmusch playfully embraces that characteristic by having the undead chant one word while they stagger about like an extra from Jackson’s “Thriller” video.
Zombie Iggy Pop walks around groaning “coffeeeeeee” while an undead Carol Kane groans “Charrrrrdonnayyyyyy.” Later in the film a bunch of undead millennials lurch about with smartphones and tablets while grunting “wi-fi.” You get the picture.
There are plenty of funny moments as this great cast deals with the zombie invasion while Driver’s Officer Peterson keeps warning Murray’s Chief Robertson “This isn’t gonna end well.” How does Peterson know they’re doomed? I’ll save that for you.
I will point out that Driver is responsible for a great Star Wars reference that almost didn’t make it into the film. When Jarmusch could get the clearance from Disney, a phone call was placed by Driver and voila, Kylo Ren saves the day.
The film’s highlights include a Scottish mortician played by Tilda Swinton who swings a mean Samurai sword, Selena Gomez as a “hipster” who loves movie references, Danny Glover as a hardware store owner, RZA as a UPS driver (labeled WuPS for the film), and a wonderful Caleb Landry as a gas station attendant-horror memorabilia expert who sports a Nosferatu t-shirt and “Night of the Living Dead” button.
“The Dead Don’t Die” was lots of fun but Jarmusch and Romero fans will enjoy it the most. Everyone else will probably disregard the family and somehow, I feel that Jarmusch doesn’t care. So, what do think about ghosts, Jim?