The Dead Don't Die

 

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Jim Jarmusch’s latest is much more of a pleasure than some early reviews suggested.

 

Dead Don't Die, The

Carol Kane and Adam Driver

 

One does not readily think of Jim Jarmusch as somebody who makes horror films and when he gave us a story about vampires in 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive it was a surprise. Since this latest work of his is true to its title and turns out to be a film about flesh-eating zombies, it might be tempting to think of these films as companion pieces. Both are indeed too personal to be standard genre fare, but, where Only Lovers Left Alive was in essence a love story told with emotion, The Dead Don't Die is a lighter offering, a homage to such true horror figures as George A. Romero. Nevertheless, it is at the same time a serious comment on the state of the world. In spite of that, choosing this film to open this year’s Cannes Film Festival was undoubtedly a mistake since it lacks the weight for such a spot and the reviews (some very harsh) would surely have been more positive had it been presented later on in the festival as a relaxation amidst sterner movies.

 

The Dead Don’t Die is set in small town America in a place called Centerville which has three police officers (Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny), a single motel, a store selling ‘gas and stuff’ and the Ever After Funeral home now run by a newcomer from Scotland, Zelda (Tilda Swinton). It also has a population of 738 but that number will soon decrease when the undead rise from their graves in the local cemetery. That represents a typical start to the unleashing of mayhem in a zombie film and no particular pretext is needed to set it in motion. Jarmusch, however, provides one by citing talk of polar fracking throwing the planet off its axis. Unlikely as that may sound, it does register as a clear sign that behind his characteristic humour (which is much in evidence in this piece) Jarmusch is expressing here a real concern about environmental issues and those in authority who with business profits in mind choose to deny the situation.

 

The zombie element is probably strong enough to please horror fans (one loses count of the number of decapitations offered up as the only way to kill off the undead) but, not being one of those fans myself, I relished more the laid-back dialogue delivered to perfection by a cast including many Jarmusch regulars (see the credits below for some more not mentioned here). There is a racist in town - a farmer played by Steve Buscemi - but most of the characters are affectionately drawn and that is a huge plus. To be honest, the film arguably puts its cards on the table too soon (giving that explanation for what is happening early on leaves the film with little to add as its reaches its climax beyond taking on an even more apocalyptical tone).

 

But if late on the writing itself takes on a certain desperation the film wins through because it is so easy to warm to it. Beautifully photographed by Frederick Elmes, splendidly edited and with a cast who are totally at ease, this is a film which conveys wonderfully well and indeed infectiously just how much pleasure Jarmusch and his colleagues had in the making of it. One would not claim that this is in any sense a major work by Jarmusch, but its characters and tone make it quintessentially his. Sturgill Simpson’s title song specially composed for the film and presented as its theme tune is the icing on the cake.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Iggy Pop, Eszter Balint, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Luke Sabbat, Austin Butler, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Maya Delmont, Taliyah Whitaker, RZA, Sara Driver, Larry Fessenden.

 

Dir Jim Jarmusch, Pro Joshua Astrachan and Carter Logan, Screenplay Jim Jarmusch, Ph Frederick Elmes, Pro Des Alex DiGerlando, Ed Affonso Gonçalves, Music SQÜRL, Costumes Catherine George.

 

Animal Kingdom/Film i Väst-Universal Pictures.
104 mins. USA/Sweden. 2019. Rel: 12 July 2019. Cert. 15.