Despite dynamic leading duo, ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ ultimately disappoints


Courtesy of IMDb

Trevor Tyle, Editor-in-Chief

Who would’ve thought a zombie killing spree led by a Ghostbuster and a fallen Jedi could go so wrong?

Unfortunately, that’s the case for the Bill Murray and Adam Driver-led zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die.” Despite its all-star cast and refreshingly dry humor, the film falls a little flat.

The story’s relatively simple — civilian life in the quiet, uneventful town of Centerville becomes uprooted by a zombie apocalypse, triggered by polar fracking and climate change (because why not?).

Centerville’s ghoulish guests can (conveniently) only be defeated by means of decapitation — a fact of which only Driver’s character, Officer Ronnie Peterson, seems to be aware. (He’s also pretty much the only character intelligent enough to realize that “this is going to end badly.”)

In spite of this, Centerville’s police force, which apparently only consists of three officers — Ronnie, Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) — is tasked with eliminating their unwanted visitors.

I’d be lying if I said “The Dead Don’t Die” was a flawless movie. In fact, it’s not even close. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the film is consistent with his previous works, which are largely considered to be an acquired taste. But its all-star cast forces it to deviate from the indie genre with which Jarmusch is most associated. (“The Dead Don’t Die” also features appearances from Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, among others.)

It’s a shame the actors didn’t have a better film to work with, but their talents all somehow remain intact despite the substantially disconnected script. Murray and Driver’s chemistry is particularly noteworthy, though it shouldn’t be surprising considering their collectively consistent acting chops.

Swinton, however, just might be the unsung hero of this film. Her character, the oh-so-creatively-named Zelda Winston, is the strange new undertaker of the local funeral home. From her irresistible Scottish accent to her incomparable sword-wielding skills, Zelda is a badass in the weirdest way. Though there’s absolutely nothing explicable about her character, she’s thoroughly amusing from beginning to end and manages to steal the spotlight in every one of her scenes.

But as much as this works to Jarmusch’s advantage, his inability to justify many of his directorial decisions throughout the film is perhaps the biggest reason why it fails to live up to my expectations. Though countless film classes have taught me otherwise, Jarmusch approached “The Dead Don’t Die” as if absolutely none of his choices needed to be deliberate whatsoever, creating a directionless — and slightly incoherent — narrative with more plot holes than there are zombies.

Apparently, there’s supposed to be some sort of heavy — and completely irrelevant — political subtext buried in that mess of a story, but the only lesson I took away was “karma’s a bitch” after Buscemi’s overtly racist character is mutilated by a swarm of zombies. (He was wearing a “Make America White Again” hat, OK?)

I wanted to enjoy “The Dead Don’t Die,” but in many ways, it felt like Jarmusch wanted to jump on the bandwagon after seeing the success of projects like “Zombieland,” but realized his ties to indie films didn’t leave him enough money to fund a decent ending. And while “The Dead Don’t Die” should’ve been a fun, explosive zombie comedy in the vein of “Zombieland,” its buildup is slow and aimless, providing half the fun its ensemble cast and punchline-permeated trailers promised.

While I appreciated the biting one-liners and plethora of pop culture references sprinkled throughout the film, “The Dead Don’t Die” is probably too self-aware for its own good.

Rating: 3/5 stars