by Ian Morton
It’s clear even from the trailers that The Dead Don’t Die isn’t going to be your typical zombie movie. From the brainchild of Jim Jarmusch, the mind behind 2016’s touchingly gentle portrayal of a humble bus driver come poet, Paterson, and 2013’s exquisitely enigmatic tale of modern day vampires, Only Lovers Left Alive, comes a zombie film layered with such a bleak social commentary that it will leave you pining for the good old days of flip phones and simple hole in the ozone layer.
After an international fracking incident, the earth’s axis is thrown out of rotation, causing catastrophic changes to affect everything from the sunrise and sunset cycles, to the simple rules of life and death. As events unfold, even the small town of Centerville can’t escape the undead nightmare that is about to befall their little town in rural America.
As early as the opening credits, The Dead Don’t Die makes it clear that this is a zombie film with a message. As we’re introduced to our heroes, each have a different take on the world; Bill Murray’s, Chief Cliff Robertson has a lovingly romanticised, ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ mentality compared to Adam Driver’s, Officer Ronnie Peterson, and Chloe Sevigny’s, Officer Mindy Robertson’s, more realist and fatalistic approach to events.
This mechanic is clever in that it not only helps provide the story with some of its most poignant and wry moments, but also gives the film the platform to make some it’s more satirical comments about the world we currently live in. Bashing everything from how easily we are convinced by the promises of corporations through to the zombified (see what he did there) consumerist behaviours we’re all guilty of. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a thread that works well given the direction the film chooses to take.
Once the penny drops however and you become aware of where the story is going, issues begin to rise just as quickly as the dead. Despite its wildly talented cast, the film really struggles outside of the Murray, Driver and Sevigny threesome, particularly when trying to flesh out the rest of Centerville. For each additional character introduced to represent another facet of society – Tilda Swinton’s, Zelda, is a particularly interesting inclusion – the film loses focus, getting lost behind a seemingly endless amount of meta jokes and ultimately losing its edge.
The effect of this is that the film ultimately has a strange ebb and flow, with each wave repeatedly breaking with a witty bit of banter before dissipating into large swathes of boredom. Given the subject matter and how intriguingly some of the themes transfer over to the zombie framework, it’s a real shock to find yourself looking at your watch on multiple occasions in order to work out when the next train home will be.
Sold to us in the same way as other indie zombie comedies such as Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland and even Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, The Dead Don’t Die will be a shock to most people expecting to see something more savage than satirical. Although the premise and themes of the film are to be respected, one can’t help but feel a little disappointed that its bark is worse than its bite.
The Dead Don’t Die is in UK cinemas from Friday!
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