Jim Jarmusch has never been a voice of the people — a voice of some people, to be certain, but mainstream he is not. If the trailers and marketing for The Dead Don’t Die suggested a shift toward populism, they lied. But, Jarmusch and the film do enjoy an undeniably popular cast, and the combined charms of Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Glover and even Selena Gomez don’t pull The Dead Don’t Die back from the cliff toward which it abruptly curves in the third act.
At 105 minutes, The Dead Don’t Die isn’t exactly a marathon, but the pacing will convince some viewers otherwise. A casual, slow burn comedy that dapples in absurdism, The Dead Don’t Die is by turns delightful and sharp. Driver and Swinton in particular stand out among the sprawling ensemble of unlikely zombie combatants.
Here’s the rub: Some sort of fracking or mining incident has knocked the earth of its axis and things are getting wacky. Day and night don’t mean anything anymore, cats are more flighty than usual and the dead, they’re rising, and returning to old habits. Meanwhile, some hipster roadtrippers (including Gomez) hole up in a cabin while the local police (Driver, Murray, Sevigny) grasp at straws, the local mortician (Swinton) displays unexpected survival skills and the local racist (Buscemi) gets his. It’s bizarre and fun.
Until it’s bizarre and very not fun. Overburdened with metaphor and meanings and building to an end that feels like the manifestation of the sentiment ‘it has to end somehow,’ The Dead Don’t Die finally marches to the beat of the Jarmusch drum. It’s an eventuality that won’t surprise anyone who has taken Intro to Film, but may disappoint the moviegoing public who want something akin to an absurdist Zombieland.
Points must be given, however, for a theme song that’s every bit as joyful as Swinton’s solitary admonitions of newly risen corpses for opening their eyes.