A quiet rural town where the most the local police force have to contend with of a day is the bickering between farmer Frank Miller and his vagrant nemesis Hermit Bob, Chief Cliff Robertson and Officers Ronald Peterson and Minerva Morrison have something new to contend with as they find, in somewhat less than astonishing circumstances, that the dead don’t die.
The zombie apocalypse heralded by fracking at the poles and a recently released compact disc by country music singer Sturgill Simpson, the lead single and title track also The Dead Don’t Die, Cliff, Ronnie and Mindy know what to do, and with the help of recently arrived mortician and beautician Zelda Winston who is as handy with a sword as a blusher brush, it’s time to clean up Centerville.
Romero having mocked modern consumerist obsession in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and shown the undead echoing patterns of their former lives in 2005’s Land of the Dead, previously premiered at the Festival with Romero himself hosting the screening, Jarmusch carries these ideas but also reflects them upon the living whose behaviour loops with repeated phrases and actions.
With an enviable ensemble cast, many of whom he has worked with before, including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones and Rosie Perez with supporting roles for Iggy Pop, Tom Waits and Larry Fessenden, while some directors move between genres and enhance them with their unique style, a Jarmusch film will always be unmistakably a Jarmusch film.
Consciously understated to the point of indifference, much of the dialogue is small talk stating the obvious, the script very much giving the impression that it was made up as they went along with fourth-wall-breaking and in-jokes failing to make the slow crawl appear edgy or innovative, Jarmusch clueless how to develop the premise to a satisfactory conclusion.
The characters little more than actors going through the motions, the cast are on the whole wasted other than Swinton until her impromptu vanishing act, a plot development from the Edward D Wood Jr school of screenwriting desperation, but even a comedy horror requires tension to work, and with the characters never caring neither do the audience have any reason to feel involved.
Caught in the indulgences of the director, The Dead Don’t Die pleases nobody other than those involved in the production who are obviously having a good time which largely fails to translate, but while the old-school approach means it never tries to reinvent the genre, neither does it fail as egregiously as some of those who have attempted such a feat with more hubris than talent.