The essentials: Centerville, Pennsylvania, America. Population 738, give or take, soon take a fair amount. It’s the kind of place where a farmer can summon a stolen chicken and two-thirds of the town’s cops jump into a stray to investigate: Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver). They question the weird little man known as Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) about the chicken and he shoots profanity and what I think was a paintball back at them. He’s not a chicken thief, says Cliff, and Cliff would know. He has been the city’s police chief for decades. Besides, who cares, because Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) is a racist cretin who carries guns and wears a red hat that says “KEEP AMERICA WHITE AGAIN”.
Really, what else are they going to do in quiet Centerville? Are you investigating how polar fracking knocked the planet off its axis, causing all watches and cell phones to stop working and the sun to set much later than it should? That’s above their pay grade. Maybe they can investigate why the cows all have RUNNOFT and the local motel owner (Larry Fessenden) can’t find his cats. Or why Adam Driver keeps breaking through the fourth wall. He and Cliff keep hearing a song on the radio called “The Dead Don’t Die,” sung by real star Sturgill Simpson. Why do you hear it over and over again? “Well, because it’s the theme song,” says Adam Driver, who also has one war of stars Keychain.
Anyway, one of the side effects of the fracking / axis phenomenon is government officials lying that it ever happened. Oh, and people who emerge from graves and frolic, pale skin and sagging jaws, eat living people and turn them into dead people and then into undead people who can be beheaded and turned back into dead people. A number of Centervillians (they are NOT Centervillians) are involved in the Hoo-ha, including: the local Buddhist samurai undertaker (Tilda Swinton), the local hardware store operator (Danny Glover), the local “Wu-PS” delivery driver ( RZA), the local convenience / comic shop guy (Caleb Landry Jones), the local third cop (Chloe Sevigny), and others. Adam Driver doesn’t say that he feels bad about these very words, but he repeats, “This won’t end well,” like a mantra, and says he knows this will all end badly because, “Jim, let him do that read entire script in which Bill Murray was only allowed to read his own scenes.
What movies will it remind you of ?: When the zombies wander through the streets with moaning smartphones: “WI-FI … WI-FI”, you can remember that Dawn of the Dead Zombies mindlessly consuming things in a mall. In order to The dead don’t die is like this Romero classic crossed with a Deadpan Bill Murray outing like Rushmore or Broken flowers.
Achievement worth seeing: Murray delivers battered flat lines? For sure. Is it waiting to mumble things to itself? Yes. Buscemi embodies an ideological caricature of the modern redneck? OK. Driver who knows he’s absolutely in a movie? Perhaps I do not know. Swinton again as a madman? Yes!
Memorable dialogue: “The only way to kill the dead is by killing the head.” – The comic / general store nerd guy
Sex and skin: No no.
Our opinion: In film cricket parlance there is a clear distinction between weak and easy. Those without a clear artistic vision or technique? Weak. The ones who feel like a lark and are still quite amusing? Light. The dead don’t die is light – light as a Fuchs. I translate the film’s openly self-referential furbelows as a kick-off and tell us that they probably exist primarily as a meeting place for Jarmusch and his friends, rather than a satirical commentary on the state of the environment (“polar” fracking “) that Originality of the existence of small towns, modern political rigamaroles or consumer technology of the 21st century.
There’s something new like that where a movie was made in pre-COVID times and we see it in the middle of COVID, and we may see a random analogy about a worldwide disease turning people into monsters. But as for zombie analogies, The dead don’t die definitely has a few, and they’re familiar and shallow, and knowing Jarmusch’s ability to dig deeper into thematic swamp areas, you’d assume his eye was on another ball here. And that’s having a laugh, maybe throwing A-listener at guy, writing the deadliest dialogue possible, and yey-would-it-wouldn’t-be-funny-Iggy-pop-as-a-too see zombie impulses.
I was not intellectually enriched by the film, nor did I admire it for its groundbreaking aesthetics or storytelling. No, it’s more of a tone exercise with Jarmusch playing with the concept of a far beyond the bubble approach to the apocalypse, rather than the usual hysterical ones, to undermine the genre and shed light on its joys and clichés. It doesn’t play so much for hardcore horror masters as it does for those of us experiencing growing zombie boredom after the subgenre re-exploded about a decade ago. So take it or leave it.
Our appeal: STREAM IT. I’m taking it for a viewing. I giggled, raised an eyebrow, and maintained my deep appreciation for dyed madmen like Murray and Waits. I will likely leave for a second consideration.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more about his work on johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @ Johnserba.
Where can you stream? The dead don’t die
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