The Walking Deadpan

Minor Spoiler warning.

In rural Centerville, U.S.A, police officers Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver) hear a song on the radio called ‘The Dead Don’t Die’. When Cliff asks about the song, Ronnie replies, “it’s the theme song.” Wait, what?

Soon, due to an environmental catastrophe the dead rise from their graves and feast on the locals. Ronnie’s response to the situation is that ‘none of it will end well’ because he knows how it ends because he read the script. Wait, what?

The Dead Don’t Die, the latest film from writer and director Jim Jarmusch (Paterson, Only Lovers Left Alive), uses the template of a zombie film to offer a running commentary on the constraints of films designed as mass entertainment. It’s an overly self-aware film that thrives on its own self-awareness … but that’s the point. The Dead Don’t Die is Jarmusch’s take on a cinematic universe with a huge cast, end of the world stakes and self-referential humour; three elements that have become the lifeblood of mainstream cinema.

The sizeable cast does not disappoint with Murray and Driver joined by Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, RZA, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane and Selena Gomez. A dry, meta-humour runs throughout the film and the cast revel in knowledge their playing characters who are aware they’re in a zombie film.

Jarmusch presents the zombies in the most obvious allegorical way. Most of the flesh-eaters are drawn back to whatever they were obsessed with while alive. Naturally, there’s a scene with zombies lining the main street with their faces lit by smartphones.

While it’s easy to offer up the biggest ‘duh’ ever, it never seems like Jarmusch is in it to make bleeding obvious statements. There are multiple zombie films released each year, what the hell is there left to say?

The Dead Don’t Die is a film within a film, and the zombie factor is a cover for Jarmusch to explore the quirks of the genre with mainstream sensibilities. Swinton can decapitate zombies with a samurai sword because that’s what you do with the talents of esteemed, award-winning actors in these films. Driver’s character has a Star Wars keyring because you wink at the audience with a reference to his career in these movies.

Moments of introspection do come from a recluse drifter played by Waits who is like a doomsday poet but The Dead Don’t Die is at its best when its poking fun at the fact it’s a goofy deconstruction of big event films.

The Dead Don’t Die is a zany genre trip if you cringe at the thought of another zombie film.

Cameron Williams

This review was published first in BMA Magazine.