The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The greatest zombie cast ever disassembled

Writer: Jim Jarmuschr
Director: Jim Jarmusch

The Dead Don’t Die probably has the most impressive cast list of any zombie movie ever made – Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover and more. Yet somehow Jim Jarmusch managed to produce a very poor film.

The story takes place in Centerville, USA (“A Real Nice Place”). The main characters are police chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver). Murray’s dry, slightly puzzled performance completely steals the show.

We’re also introduced to some of the town’s other characters. These include wild man of the woods Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), a farmer (Steve Buscemi) who wears a “Keep America White Again” cap and Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), the new undertaker who is also a martial arts expert. And we’re told the (suitably ludicrous) explanation for events: polar fracking has caused a change in the Earth’s axial tilt.

Nothing really happens for the first hour, it drags badly. There are some great little moments including some postmodernism where the characters discuss the oft-repeated theme tune. There are other very clever sight gags and references, just not enough of them to cover the lack of anything actually happening.

The zombie uprising finally gets going about half way through, by which time many people might have given up watching. Even then, with the town being overrun, Jarmusch fails to get any narrative tension going and what we have is a series of isolated incidents and (admittedly clever) gags.

Jarmusch clearly knows the genre, with numerous references to other films. The Dead Don’t Die is less a zomcom and more a satire on B movies in general (hence Tilda Swinton’s unexpected exit). The sending up is done well, there just isn’t enough of it.

Whilst there are some great individual scenes, gags and moments, there are far too few. The film overall sags and lacks badly in terms of storytelling. A lot needs to be cut – not just scenes but whole characters. Either cut the juvie kids and develop the out of towners, or vice versa. Either cut Hermit Bob or give him something to do other than beat the allegory over our heads at the end.

Watching The Dead Don’t Die feels like watching the first draft of a script. It has potential, but should never have been filmed in its current state.