There is always that friend at parties who tells the same joke on repeat – one which delights them more than the listeners and gets endlessly rephrased with diminishing returns. This is the personification of The Dead Don’t Die – Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy with a socially conscious edge. This time, the dead are rising because the earth was knocked off its axis by polar fracking – something every public figure denies vehemently on Centerville’s public radio station between repeat plays of the theme tune. What follows is a tiring, tiresome product that chomps its way through viewers’ patience.
The Dead Don’t Die is not without all entertainment value – zombie visual gags never get old. Adam Driver and Bill Murray are a dry double act that enhance Jarmusch’s state-the-obvious script, and Tilda Swinton revels in her otherworldly persona. The cast is packed so full that many comedy talents feel wasted, notably Steve Buscemi’s MAGA farmer whose plot relevance is swiftly devoured.
That said, the earth is facing man-made (read, late stage capitalist corporate) destruction at an unprecedented rate, with less than twelve years to change course before disaster. And even then, the damage done will compound in ways difficult to predict. With world leaders (notably one who popularised Buscemi’s hat) dragging their feet on the issue, subtlety is the wrong route. Being beat over the head with the same point, reiterated in increasingly joyless ways, makes for exhausting, unpleasant viewing – but perhaps it is the only way to talk about planetary disaster beyond comprehension.
The Dead Don’t Die is not quite weird enough to justify its metatheatricality and loses its edge with each sledgehammer blow of the same point. While subtlety is not a necessity when the end of the world is at stake, the satire might land harder if the comedy landed at all.
CAST: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, Carol Kane, Rosie Perez, Selena Gomez
DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch
WRITERS: Jim Jarmusch
SYNOPSIS: When the inhabitants of Centerville see their dead rising from their graves, three police officers and a sword-wielding mortician end up on the front line of the apocalypse.