Warning: spoilers ahead.
Set in Centerville – ‘a real nice place’ – The Dead Don’t Die bares resemblance to Twin Peaks, in more ways than just its idyllic, small town setting. There’s the deadpan cop repertoire between Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver), the wise Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) living on the outskirts of the town but more in tune to the strange goings on than the rest of its members, and the loveable diner girls and their regular customers. However, where Twin Peaks succeeded, Jim Jarmusch’s Zombie Comedy fails to hit the mark, bearing more similarities with the cameo-filled messy movie than the beloved first two seasons.
Whilst any Zombie Comedy made in the 21stCentury must be conscious and referential of those that came before it. The Dead Don’t Die goes too far in its nods to the undead, more of a vigorous head-shake, becoming the know-it-all who wears horror merchandise to demonstrate their superior taste. Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) is the personification of zombie references, teaching others how to kill the undead in lines that may as well be footnoted by each film – Sean of the Dead, Zombieland etc. Taking place in a brief dialogue between Zoe (Selena Gomez) and shop worker Bobby in which the two drop their horror movie references, which couldn’t be more on the nose. This brief encounter is one in which sparks sizzle, but the plot never returns to.
The possible relationship between Zoe and Bobby, is just one of the many loose ends this film never bothers to tie up. Tilda Swinton’s role as Scottish mortician, gets the most laughs but much like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, her character is irrelevant to the direction of the plot. I was left wondering why her character exists, except for as one of the many cameos. And why has Swinton once again taken on a role which appropriates Asian culture? Or will there ever be a make-up artist that chooses not to bleach her eyebrows? Will she ever play any other role other than herself?
Apart from the samurai Swinton, all other female roles, get lumped with the female roles often dished out to women in action films. Selena Gomez’s part exists only for the male leads to gawk at the bum crease visibly protruding from her short shorts. Whilst Chloe Sevigny is the hysterical female cop unable to handle the situation. She is the only one who vomits after seeing the first victims left by Zombie Iggy Pop and is emotionally overcome by the zombie apocalypse, leading to her eventual demise. The only other women of significance are the two diner waitresses who die quickly after putting up no fight to the extremely slow undead. Tilda Swinton is only able to handle the situation because she is actually an alien and therefore devoid of those overwhelming womanly feelings, so she meets the zombie population of Centerville with the same stoicism as the male leads.
As many zombie films have done so already, Jarmusch makes the same point that our consumer led society makes us just as much zombiefied in our lives as in our undead existence. A point made blatantly by the zombies repetitively saying the habit they most enjoyed in life, one murmurs ‘chardonnay’, another ‘coffee’, whilst many stare at their phones as they drag their corpses through the streets. A point which has been much more effectively in classics such as Dawn of the Dead and its great British parody. However, there is some originality to The Dead Don’t Die, as it is the first zombie apocalypse brought about by energy corporations’ harmful fracking. Which is adamantly denied by the voices representing oil companies on the radio. It is a shame that the first zombie movie that attempts to broach the subject of environmental issues, is unsuccessful in so many other ways. Unfortunately this narrative and the comedic chemistry between Bill Murray and Adam Driver is not enough for The Dead Don’t Die to be placed among the great zombie classics so often referenced.
Words, Billie Walker – @queen.feta