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"The Dead Don't Die" Review: Very Slow Kills of Even Slower Zombies

If you're looking for zombie-killing action, remember this is a Jim Jarmusch movie.

Credit : Abbot Genser / Focus Features
© 2019 Image Eleven Productions, Inc.

The Dead Don't Die is exactly what one would expect a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie to be.

At least, it's exactly what anyone should expect a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie to be. This is the director of Broken Flowers and Paterson, so audiences know going in that The Dead Don't Die won't be the typical Bill Murray romp (when was the last time Murray did a romp anyway?)

The plot centers on the small town of Centerville as it faces a zombie outbreak, which is caused by polar fracking spinning Earth off its axis. Officers Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) have to warn the town and fight zombies after dark.

The Dead Don't Die Why don't the dead die? Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

These are definitely zombies at a Jim Jarmusch pace. Not only are they the traditionally slow, lumbering, George Romero-style zombies (no fast running zombies here, thankfully), but Jarmusch slows down the action even more. For some reason, the characters take their time killing the zombies.

Don't expect Dawn of the Dead-sized hordes, either, or even Walking Dead-sized. This is an indie movie, after all. There's a horde of only seven or eight zombies on Main Street, although there are a lot more at the cemetery. Zombies on the athletic field allow for some fun gags, so Jarmusch does indulge in some of the traditional "zombies resuming their routines" jokes.

If you've seen other Jarmusch movies, like Paterson or Coffee and Cigarettes, you can sort of apply those tones to this zombie movie. The Dead Don't Die isn't even as loyal to its genre as Ghost Dog was to samurai movies or Only Lovers Left Alive was to vampire movies; those films still took their time, but they adapted to the genre. Instead, Jarmusch adapts zombies to his tone and pace.

The Dead Don't Die Admit it, being dead wouldn't stop your coffee cravings. Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

The Dead Don't Die has a light tone, but it's not laugh-out-loud funny. Quirky would be the clearest way to describe it. Nobody's making jokes, but they're saying things that are a little off-kilter. The first meta joke was fun, but after the second meta joke, you can totally predict what the third meta joke will be.

There are a lot of characters standing around talking, making changes or guessing where tourists (led by Selena Gomez) are from. The mortician, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), addresses every character by their title and full name, because that's an unusual way to talk. Murray does exactly one lone pratfall. In 2019, let's celebrate what little Bill Murray-physical comedy we still get.

At least there are plenty of gory zombie bites. When zombies are killed in this movie, they spray black dust instead of gory innards, which gives it a somewhat classier effect. If you're looking for zombie-killing, once again these characters take their time killing zombies. Even though they know the rules to aim for the head, they're in no rush.

I have to call a little B.S. on Jarmusch's deep cut references, though. Zoe (Selena Gomez) tells store clerk Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), "Your film knowledge is impressive" on the basis of his references to Psycho, George Romero, and Nosferatu. Come on, Zoe, aim higher. But maybe she was just being nice to the townie.

Tilda Swinton in The Dead Don't Die Samurai Swinton? Sold! Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

Jim Jarmusch is not at everyone's speed, but he's firmly established his own style and pacing, so everyone should know what to expect from The Dead Don't Die. It's not Zombieland. The Dead Don't Die is a traditional Jim Jarmusch movie—slowed down by zombies.

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