THE DEAD DON’T DIE. US, 2019. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Tom Waites, Steve Buscemi, Eszter Balint, Danny Glover, Maya Delmont, Talyiha Whitaker, Kevin McCormack, Syd O'Connell, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Iggy Pop, Larry Fessenden, Rosie Perez, Jahi di’ Allo Winston, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, Simpson Sturgill. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. 112 minutes. Rated MA (Strong horror violence)
“Kill the Head” is the principal and practical message of this excursion into the world of zombies, especially when we ourselves are confronted by them and their unrelenting menace, and illustrated particularly effectively by Scots mortician, Tilda Swinton, wielding her sword with expertise and dispatching the zombies quickly and efficiently. Which actually means that the title is not exactly accurate – the living dead can die.
A story is told that Tilda Swinton and writer-director, Jim Jarmusch, were talking after completing their vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive. They found a mutual attraction in zombie stories – and, so, here we are. The Dead Don’t Die was the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival of 2019 – not particularly the type of genre for many festivalgoers but the director and his cast have strong reputations.
Some word-of-mouth claimed that the film was hilarious, a sendup of the genre. But, some fans who revel in the exuberance of hundreds of living dead converging on the living didn’t find it so hilarious. Perhaps the word to describe the action and the language of the screenplay is “droll”. And, it is enjoyably droll.
Bill Murray and Adam Driver play two local police officers, with Chloe Sevigny doing all the desk work back at the office. The conversation between them all is always with underlying humour, one might say in this context “dead-pan”. They discover mystery in the woods and attribute it to the ultra-wild-looking hermit, played by Tom Waites. It is not long before the zombies arrive, causing mayhem at the local diner after we have been enjoying the chitchat between the two waitresses, then, menace throughout the small town of Centreville which, as a sign outside the town reads, it is “real nice”.
The plot is not very elaborate – it just needs a few quirky characters to interest and amuse the audience, an eccentric Bob who has a stall for “gas and other stuff” and is a nerdish expert on pop culture (Caleb Landry Jones) who chats with a veteran store owner, Hank (Danny Glover), Farmer Frank who wears a cap stating ‘Make America White Again’. Then three young people drive into town, described by the locals as “hipsters”.
Which means then there is the question of who will survive – and when and how the rest of the characters will be zombiefied.
And, Jarmusch, enjoying his droll treatment of his themes, does note that Adam Driver continually says that it will all end badly – and later being revealed that he has read the whole script and knows the ending! And, there are in jokes about Simpson Sturgess’s song, The Dead Don’t Die, which turns out to be the theme, frequently played, and also the subject of some jokes.
Jim Jarmusch may not consider it one of his greatest films – but, it would seem that he considers it one of his most entertaining and enjoyable. (There is a credit for Zombie Movement Consultant – and someone is thanked with ‘undying love’).
Universal Released September 26th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.