Our pop culture landscape is littered with zombies and vampires. We’re obsessed with blood and guts and characters who live forever in various states of decay. Do we really need another zombie movie?
Jim Jarmusch thought we could use at least one more. Besides, the writer-director had already made a vampire movie, “Only Lovers Left Alive.” And he imported the best thing about that film, Tilda Swinton, for his ridiculous zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die.”
The jokes are hit and miss and the plot is not really much of a concern: A small town is terrorized when a bunch of folks climb out of their graves and start eating people. The reason for this ghoulish awakening may be attributed to “polar fracking” and other repercussions of climate change.
What is a appealing is the killer cast, most of them Jarmusch veterans: Bill Murray as the town’s laid-back police chief, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny as his straight-arrow deputies, Ronnie and Mindy, Selena Gomez as a “hipster from Cleveland,” Tom Waits as a chicken-poaching forest hermit, RZA as a delivery man, Iggy Pop as a coffee-craving zombie and Steve Buscemi as a farmer who wears his racism in the form of a Trump-like red hat emblazoned with the words “Keep America White Again.”
For the most part, these characters are not especially smart. Nor are they especially panicked about the impending zombie apocalypse.
Swinton, with a thick Scottish accent, provides added levels of absurdity as Zelda, proprietor of the Ever After Funeral Home, who is also quite deft with a samurai sword. The latter talent proves most useful when we are reminded that the only way to kill a zombie for good is to remove his or her head.
Driver, who honed his Jarmusch rhythms as the poetry-writing bus driver in "Paterson," serves as the perfect Jarmuschian observer. Trying to guess the culprits of a gruesome double-murder at the local diner, his Officer Ronnie blandly surmises, "I'm thinkin' zombies." He also constantly drives home the most obvious aspect of the film: "This isn't going to end well."
“The Dead Don’t Die” unfolds in and around Centerville, “A Real Nice Place. Population: 738.” In true Jarmusch fashion, there are deadpan asides within deadpan asides, random characters, meta references to the screenplay, in-jokes and an eclectic soundtrack (country star Sturgill Simpson provides the title song).
Jarmusch, who grew up in Akron and enjoyed the low-budget, late-night TV shenanigans of Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson in the '60s, manages to insert a few Ghoulardi catch phrases.
“The Dead Don’t Die” was the opening night feature at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Jarmusch’s films, dating back to his breakthrough “Stranger Than Paradise” in 1984, have been honored previously at Cannes. But this time, there were no awards and the overall reaction was mixed.
If you’re looking for zombie thrills, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But if you appreciate the Jarmusch vibe and his casting choices, “The Dead Don’t Die” is like hanging out with old friends for a while. Now that Jarmusch has veered into the overdone realm of zombies, what's left? Superheroes?
Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.