The Dead Don't Die Review: A Zombie Comedy Unlike Anything Else, for Better and Worse

Being billed as having one of the greatest casts ever assembled, The Dead Don't Die brings in some heavy hitters for a horror-comedy like no other. Jim Jarmusch, known for his more arthouse fare, has clearly cashed in his clout to bring together a cast consisting of Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Tilda Swinton, and more. The end result of bringing this truly phenomenal cast is a zombie story that circumvents all expectations, delivering Jarmusch's signature dialogue and absurdist humor, yet skimps on the more horrific elements of the premise, making for an experience that will thrill some audiences while frustrating others.

In a small Pennsylvania town, a series of bizarre events begin to unfold, from animals going missing to electronics no longer working to the sun refusing to set, leading local law enforcement to prepare for even more anomalies to occur. When dead bodies begin to pile up, Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Driver), and Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) realize that the dead have begun to come back to life in a scenario which is sure to end badly for all of them.

As evidenced by sequences in George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, the zombie subgenre provides ample room for comedy, with films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland fully exploiting the post-apocalyptic situations' comedic potential. The Dead Don't Die does offer plenty of hilarious moments, but if you're expecting to see anything along the lines of Murray's appearance in Zombieland, you'll surely be disappointed. Feeling more similar to Jarmusch's previous efforts like Coffee and Cigarettes or Paterson, the film ambles along and, rather than offering a fully engaging narrative, creates opportunities for the talented cast to absurdly quip off of one another in a series of conversations, as opposed to a rousing horror epic that the film's marketing has been teasing.

In addition to the film's humor merely being a mixed bag that is only sporadically successful, genre fans will likely feel even more disappointed by the endeavor, as Jarmusch does little to breathe life into the concept. The characters all meander through the typical rules of zombie lore, with characters emphasizing that the head needs to be severed from the body to eradicate a threat, with various characters being killed off screen while the more gruesome deaths are still about as tame as anything you'd see on The Walking Dead.

Despite neither the humor nor the horror being entirely effective, there's still something about the disparate elements of the movie failing to connect with another that creates an indescribably unique experience. Driver is the standout performer, whose timid demeanor is immediately replaced by a confident authority over how to kill zombies, seemingly parodying the trope of the unexpected hero in a survival story. Murray is befuddled and often has such low energy, you'd think he didn't know they were even filming any of the scenes he was in, conveying a character that feels diametrically opposed to the image Murray has earned for his own personality. At times, the film feels like a spoof of not the zombie subgenre, but the film the audiences were expecting when looking over all of the isolated factors that could have made for a hilarious splatterfest.

From a conceptual level, The Dead Don't Die is surely deserving of praise for offering such an unexpected experience that no one will be able to leave the theater without having a passionate opinion one way or another. Given the popularity of zombies, fans of more mainstream narratives will surely be disappointed with the lack of drama or gruesome special effects, yet fans of Jarmusch's previous work might enjoy seeing how his filmmaking sensibilities lend themselves to an unexplored subgenre.

Possibly frustrating the experience further is that Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the stronger vampire films of the decade, with his poetic sensibilities being more effective when exploring forlorn lovers expressing their frustrations with humanity while professing their love for one another than when applied to the dead coming back to life. There are nuggets of philosophical themes about the nature of societies who are more interested in their phones and finding wifi than in connecting with one another, though these themes have been explored in countless other horror stories to a more effective degree, making it unclear if Jarmusch is genuinely trying to convey these notions or is merely satirizing the allegories the horror genre often attempts.

The Dead Don't Die isn't the strongest efforts from anyone involved in the production, but it's hard to deny Jarmusch's unique voice that will make for an experience that no audience will predict and hopefully inspire audiences to seek out more of his stronger works.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

The Dead Don't Die will release in theaters on June 14th.