Review: The Dead Don’t Die
by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2019: Jim Jarmusch’s opening film, produced with the help of Sweden’s Film i Väst, properly introduces the concept of coffee zombies to the world. And the world is grateful
After quite a few sombre openings in recent years - although some are still convinced that Arnaud Desplechin’s convoluted Ismael’s Ghosts [+see also:
Q&A: Arnaud Desplechin
film profile] was, in fact, a comedy - the Cannes Film Festival kicked off its 72nd edition with a movie that somehow turned into a cry for inclusion. Indie icon Jim Jarmusch proves not only that zombies deserve a place in the world, but also that they can make it all the way into its most prestigious cinematic competition, even though The Dead Don’t Die [+see also:
film profile] ultimately feels more like a product of a rumbustious weekend out of town than a political statement, and no amount of pets named “Rumsfeld” can possibly change that. The same goes for MAWA (as in “Make America White Again”) hats, proving just how subtle the whole gag really is.
While hardly ground-breaking as far as stories about the undead go, at least there is a clear affection for the formula, with nods towards George A Romero, small-town cops coming across something they would rather ignore and hapless civilians dealing with the sudden outbreak any which way they can. All the while, they bask in their combined superstar glory, as the promise of “the greatest zombie cast ever disassembled” comes true thanks to Bill Murray, putting his experience on Zombieland to good use, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny and pop powerhouse Selena Gomez. Is it yet another case of a bunch of A-listers enjoying themselves way more than the audience? God, yes. But for every line that falls flat, or every mention of the theme song by country singer Sturgill Simpson – and there are many – you get Tilda Swinton in what might be one of her most bonkers and most heavily Scottish-accented roles ever. Which says a lot, given that she is coming fresh off Suspiria [+see also:
film profile], having played what looked a lot like Jabba the Hutt in designer shades.
As for the creatures themselves, with Sara Driver and Iggy Pop paving the way, they actually get to show some personality in between the groans. “They gravitate towards things they did when they were alive,” notices Adam Driver’s character, and that’s precisely what happens, with one particular couple barely able to stand yet still demanding more coffee than the entire Finnish population combined, almost as if echoing Dead Man’s William Blake and his exasperated cry of: “I’m not dead. Am I?!” While that idea has already been explored in a video game called Plants vs. Zombies, albeit in more hipsterish form, it also makes all the shenanigans fit rather nicely within Jarmusch’s universe, running on deadpan delivery and caffeine since 1980. “Welcome to my world,” says Tom Waits, observing the whole calamity from behind the bushes – and, frankly, he may have a point. It’s just a shame that for a proper apocalypse, this one is rather dull.
Written by Jim Jarmusch, The Dead Don’t Die is a US-Swedish co-production, and was produced by Joshua Astrachan and Carter Logan in association with Longride, Animal Kingdom, Chimney and Film i Väst. It is being distributed by Focus Features (USA) and Universal Pictures, and ICM Partners has the international rights.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.