Some movies sprint from start to finish. Some go for the long haul with a burst of speed at the end. And some you find increasingly hard to cheer on as they shuffle along way past the point of goodwill, and lollop away from the finish line only to stagger into the stalls. The Dead Don’t Die takes your already worn away patience and gnaws at it like a toothless grandma. Stop it, Gran.
The Dead Don’t Die, starring Adam Driver and Bill Murray, is a zombie film in the same way that Love Island is a dating programme: just because you can put them there doesn’t mean you should. Director Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) in an interview with Vulture said the movie lacked plot twists or ‘formulaic suspense’, favouring instead normal people failing to deal with zombies with ridiculous dialogue. Which would imply that this is supposed to be a comedy. That certain kind of utterly deadpan comedy, where it's precisely the not being funny, that you hope it will become funny.
Clearly, the quality of the cast is high. Bill Murray and Adam Driver are small-town cops as the slow creeping rise of zombie infections sweep the town (it’s all Iggy Pop’s fault). Their slightly antagonistic back and forth gives you something to grasp in the first Act whilst other elements are set up. Danny Glover’s full-faced earnestness is present. Tilda Swinton’s katana-wielding Scottish funeral director ‘otherness’ niggles out like a sherbet bullet engulfed within the bland nougat around her. Steve Buscemi plays, well, the sort of person who would wear a ‘Make America White Again’ hat.
Except, he doesn’t. You see, absolutely no plot threads are seen through at all. Characters are introduced and the script hints that some romance or maybe some redeeming heroic rescue will make a later appearance, only for each person to meet summary death by zombie with all the dramatic heft of someone changing channel. Buscemi’s ‘I’m a racist' hat makes no sense when he says or does nothing racist. The nerdy truckstop guy who you’d imagine would spew out essential life-saving zombie facts just gets paired with Danny Glover for no reason and bundled into an unsatisfying siege situation.
The Dead Don’t Die is sprinkled with an itchy dose of the ‘metas’. Now I like a self-referential glance at the camera as much as the next guy, but it has to serve some sort of greater narrative purpose because otherwise, why bother? “What’s this song?” asks Murray, as a country music strum called ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ comes over the radio. “It’s the theme song,” replies Driver. Other moments, such as an irritated Murray snapping, “Are we ad-libbing here?!” bunch up like cheap underwear. Yet we are denied the satisfaction of the movie ever dropping its pants for a big waggly reveal. Instead, it limps on, just causing pain unnecessarily.
No doubt other reviewers may point to the craft in undercutting an audience’s expectations whilst surmising that The Dead Don’t Die is too clever and ironically daft to be favourably compared with the normal undead oeuvre. That may be so. But to come away from a zombie movie so utterly bored is something that I can’t forgive it for. There were no laughs. No shrieks. There was no wincing, dazzling, or thumbs upping. No, The Dead Don’t Die simply took my interest and slowly sat on it until, much like the characters shambling around the screen, all will to live was utterly deflated.
Words by Mike Record