Small Town Z

Jim Jarmusch thinks the living dead already walk among us

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Dead Don’t Die
Now playing, Rainbow

Early reviews of The Dead Don’t Die —Jim Jarmusch’s foray into the zombie craze — haven’t been kind. “Not scary”, “slight”, “minor” are the most frequently used adjectives to describe the film.

Well, they are wrong.

The Dead Don’t Die has problems, but it shouldn’t be measured by genre standards. Jarmusch has bent film conventions throughout his career to suit his whims, and this latest effort is no different. While broad and not quite groundbreaking, the filmmaker’s indictment of capitalism and the Trump administration is on the money.

It’s also clear the director of Paterson and Only Lovers Left Alive knows this is a ridiculous setup, to the point his characters break the fourth wall any chance they gets.

Jarmusch’s zombies are George Romero-types: slow, bloodthirsty and single-minded, mostly over consumer goods. Once their cannibal cravings have been satisfied, they return to their favourite activities from life. The dwellers of a small town in middle America are easy pickings and the local police (Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny) have no idea how to deal with the emergency.

For such a dire situation, The Dead Don’t Die unfolds in lackadaisical fashion and it’s weirdly refreshing. The filmmaker is more interested in giving his friends (Iggy Pop, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi) screen time and letting Driver and Murray banter — although the SNL MVP is stuck in the straight-man role for most of the movie, which feels like a waste of his talents.

The film’s most precise statement is establishing that our disconnect from one another makes us easy prey from whatever calamity is coming our way. Ever the humanist, Jarmusch believes community is, if not the solution, a way to delay the inevitable end.

Applied sociology and cutesy notes aside, the movie sputters along. There is plenty of cheese and no flow, something unforgivable for an auteur with over a dozen of feature films under his belt.  There is no good reason for Selena Gómez to be here, and Jarmusch doesn’t know what to do with her. The Tilda Swinton character — the local funeral director —  is inconsistent to the point of absurdity.

As for the zombie apocalypse? It’s triggered by fracking in the North Pole, which knocked the Earth off its axis. Broad? Sure, but as a metaphor, far-fetched it is not. Adam Driver’s character frequently says “this is going to end badly,” and he’s not talking about the undead.