Given how stale the zombie genre is by now – at this point, even the most self-aware parodies feel pretty hackneyed – it takes a very particular kind of director to announce a zombie film to an excited, positive response. Jim Jarmusch is one of those directors, which is why it’s so baffling that The Dead Don’t Die is so appalling. Utterly lacking in both horror and comedy and never once giving you any reason to care about any of its characters, it’s a pointless and smug exercise in tiring an audience out, with satire that would have felt dated decades ago.
This time around, the zombie apocalypse is brought about by polar fracking knocking the earth off its axis and bringing the dead back. In the small town of Centreville (get it?), local cops Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver) try to keep some order as the reanimated wreak havoc. There isn’t a single decent scare in the whole film, and any tension is killed off by half-baked meta fourth wall breaks. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if The Dead Don’t Die was funny, but only about two of the jokes actually land, and even they aren’t that good.
George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is obviously the inspiration for the anti-consumerism satire, but Jarmusch handles it horribly, adding very little to what Romero already said in 1978. In an embarrassing touch, the zombies, instead of moaning ‘brains’, wail things like ‘coffee’, ‘wifi’, and ‘Xanax’. Given that Jarmusch is an undeniably ‘cool’ filmmaker, and that his previous film, the simply lovely Paterson, was so non-judgemental, to have such an Old Man Yells At Cloud streak here is bizarre. And, if all of that sounds a little too subtle for your tastes, don’t worry, wise vagrant Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) pops up occasionally to just outright state what the themes of the film are through voiceover.
Further leaving a bad taste in the mouth is The Dead Don’t Die’s rank misogyny. Though Tilda Swinton gets a fun role as a Scottish mortician who expertly wields a katana, the other women in the film are treated exceedingly poorly. Chloe Sevigny’s cop Mindy is a weeping, whiny nag and Selena Gomez shows up to be leered at in tiny shorts before being brutally murdered and having her corpse desecrated. Lazy and nasty, you can’t even really call The Dead Don’t Die a mess – its awfulness seems intentional to the point that you can faintly hear Jarmusch laughing at you from behind the screen.