“What a fucked up world,” says Tom Waits’ zany hermit in the closing scene of the newest zombie flick, “The Dead Don’t Die.” Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, this meta horror movie is not your typical brain-dead jump scare attraction.
Filled with social commentary, a stellar cast and consistent fourth-wall breaks, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a genre-blurring satire of the classic form of Hollywood horror. This is widely achieved through Jarmusch’s writing, which adds purposeful hints of dullness to dialogue in order to reinforce the absurdity present in the subgenre of undead invasions.
The dynamic between Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officer Peterson (Adam Driver) parallels a Batman and Robin relationship as the two investigate the mysterious happenings within the small town of Centerville. As they drive through the town, the lyrics “the dead don’t die,” sung by Sturgill Simpson, break from the car speakers, just one of the idiosyncratic foreshadowings peppered throughout the film.
The two acknowledge the tune as the theme song of the movie — just the first moment characters overtly recognize the fact that they’re living in a fictional setting.
After this telling opening, viewers are introduced to farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi), a rugged and prejudiced character who walks in sporting a bright red Keep America White Again hat. While Buscemi doesn’t have much screen time, his character effectively represents the issue of racism in rural America. And it’s not just statements of race in America that this movie showcases, but also climate change, modern addiction (think zombies asking for Wi-Fi) and a handful of other pressing topics facing America today.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for this film, especially considering the near-perfect comedic performances given by each and every cast member. Tilda Swinton in particular has one of the most interesting roles in the film, playing the mysterious Scottish mortician Zelda Winston. Winston may be one of the most intimidating characters in the film, but not for gore and violence. Rather, the samurai sword-bearing femme fatale seems to walk in a clandestine fog and undergoes an arc that wraps up with a bizarre, unexpected twist toward the end of the film.
As former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA says playing delivery man Dean, “The world is perfect — appreciate the details.” The movie is simmering with conspicuous recognition of how the film pans out, from Officer Peterson’s blatant comments on how “this is definitely going to end badly” to his suggestion of a zombie attack while investigating the first violent scene of the film. The quick pacing parallels Officer Peterson’s ability to plainly solve issues as they pop up, giving the movie a comedic immediacy as the pair navigates the strange phenomena.
Driver plays a convertible smart car-driving, straightforward millennial who seems to be the most self-aware of the bunch. This is all proved correct in the craziest breaking scene of the film, when Officer Peterson and Chief Robertson discuss how much of the script Jarmusch allowed them to read.
Some other actors on the star-studded lineup do not receive as much screen time as viewers may be expecting, but considering how large the cast is, the choice to focus on Driver, Murray and their counterpart Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) is a smart one, as it avoids overwhelming the audience with characters lacking sufficient development.
Overall, “The Dead Don’t Die” is definitely not one of the scariest movies to grace the silver screen. While some of the action scenes are more on the graphic side, there are few features that inspire anxiety in the audience. But in the end, campy terror is not really the purpose of this film — it’s the more mundane elements that inspire the most unease.