Humanity has reached a dead-end, and it’s fracking that did it. In real life, maybe, but in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, definitely.
Fracking the polar ice caps—which doesn’t sound that far-fetched—has thrown the Earth off its axis and caused the dead to rise. One of the first out of the grave is an old Jarmusch staple: Iggy Pop, sporting his requisite leather vest and lack of t-shirt. The grave he climbs out of belongs to Samuel Fuller, one of Jarmusch’s idols. If those names don’t mean anything to you, then Dead Don’t Die might be rough sledding. For the rest, it’s like listening to the radio on a warm summer afternoon when an old favorite comes on.
The Dead Don’t Die is a mellow take on the zombie genre, one less interested in jump scares and gore and more interested in riffing on George Romero’s zombie-hypothesis put forth in Dawn of the Dead: We are all just zombies in waiting, mindless consumers forever needing more.
“What are they doing?” one character asks as a plague of zombies tries to break down the doors to the shopping mall where the town’s survivors have holed up. “Why do they come here?”
“Memory of what they used to do,” comes the reply. “This was an important place in their lives.”
Phones, TVs, records, guns, prescription drugs, Wi-Fi; these are all important things in life, why wouldn’t they be in death? Maybe this sounds like Jarmusch is shaking his finger at kids these days, but he’s not. Jarmusch has always had a fascination for the things we own and the things that own us. It gives Dead Don’t Die a fairly plausible rendering of how people will handle the collapse of society. That weirdo down the street, your brother who lives off the grid and checks-in every other month, they have a much better chance when the shit hits the fan than you do.
The two characters that embody this best are Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), our observer and narrator of sorts, and Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish undertaker who practices diligently with her katana, refers to everyone by their first and last name, and walks strictly in straight lines and right angles. People treat her like she’s from another planet.
There are also “normal” folks in Centerville, a small town of 738 and policed by Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny), but even they seem a little off.
Not much happens in Centerville, and not much happens in Dead Don’t Die, that is, until the zombies show up. No one really knows how to react, except for one who keeps repeating, “This isn’t going to end well.” He knows why. How he knows is a playful moment best left discovered in the theater.
As wonderful and easy as The Dead Don’t Die is, it’s a hard movie to recommend to anyone in particular, but it’s a movie that could be enjoyed by many. Like every movie, your mileage will vary based on the mental baggage you take with you into the theater and what expectations you have. Who knows what odd intersection of want and need will best suit the mellow mood of Dead Don’t Die, but should you find it, it’ll be like locking into a groove you don’t want to let go.
Written & directed by Jim Jarmusch
Produced by Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan
Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones
Focus Features, Rated R, Running time 103 minutes, Opens June 14, 2019