The Dead Don’t Die, having received mixed reviews, is the most recent addition to American horror comedy: a genre dominated largely by Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 debut, Zombieland.
The film has etched its way into cultural history, and so the only way to attempt to do a zombie-themed comedy movie appears to be by veering off in a different direction, and this film certainly does that: rather than a laugh-out-loud comedy, it’s a peculiar self-referential feature with a diverse and star-studded cast full of the odd touches we’ve come to expect from indie darling Jim Jarmusch.
Jarmusch’s minimalist and slow-paced style doesn’t seem as if it would lend well to the horror-comedy genre, and yet it establishes a wonderful sense of tension that permeates the film. We know that something is going to go wrong – the characters say as much themselves – but there is no indication of when, and the film marches steadily on towards the impending doom of the climax.
The climax, unfortunately, is a strange denouement. We know where the film is going – Adam Driver’s Ronnie Peterson continually tells us “this is definitely going to end badly” – but this also comes as a letdown. It feels sour, and the film’s gentle humour seems to die out as the last of the characters do. For all the tension built throughout the film, it’s an anticlimax, and one that it feels difficult to glean a message from.
That isn’t to say that The Dead Don’t Die is a bad film. In fact, its surprising choice to break the fourth wall makes the film intriguing: it’s not the first time that this technique has been used within the genre, but the way that Adam Driver seems so effortlessly to blend personality-wise into his character makes it wonderfully bizarre when, in an early scene, Bill Murray’s Chief Robertson asks why the song on the radio sounds so familiar and Driver answers that it’s the theme song. Sturgill Simpson’s The Dead Don’t Die is everywhere in the film in a reference that should be tiresome but instead becomes increasingly humorous as you wonder if there’s anybody in the film who isn’t going to mention it.
The characters’ obliviousness is where the film’s humour really comes into its stride. For most of the film, it seems that Driver is the only person aware that he’s an actor in a film; but in a rare laugh-out-loud moment at the end of the film, Bill Murray emerges from the character of Chief Robertson to bicker with Driver about the script. It’s a moment that feels somewhat spiritually related to Zombieland’s own hysterical Bill Murray storyline.
Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny all deliver wonderful and understated performances as three of Centerville’s police officers, our main characters, while Tilda Swinton makes a memorable turn as the Scottish katana-wielding Zelda Winston. Caleb Landry Jones brings a surprising amount of nuance to gas station owner Bobby Wiggins; similarly, Selena Gomez is charming in her sadly short-lived role as outsider Zoe.
As horror films go, The Dead Don’t Die is a truly unique offering. The film and its cast seem to be having plenty of fun, but, never forgetting its horror roots, a note of eeriness hangs over the venture. The film’s comedy is wonderfully deadpan and ‘Jarmuschian’, so for the horror fan looking for something unusual and fresh, The Dead Don’t Die is a must.
Image Credit: Paul Sherwood via Flickr