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13 Jun 2019

Slow Zombie Laughs: If You Can Handle Jim Jarmusch's Slow Filmmaking, You'll Enjoy 'The Dead Don't Die'

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The zombie genre gets the Jim Jarmusch treatment with mild levels of success in The Dead Don’t Die, an often funny, sometimes scary and always amusing horror-comedy effort from the famed director.

Jarmusch has done horror before, most notably with his atmospheric vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive and, some could argue, the disturbing death-meditation Dead Man. His latest effort is as close to full-on satire as the director has ever come: The world is falling apart politically, socially and environmentally, and its inhabitants are too slow and dimwitted to really do anything about it.

Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny play sheriff Cliff and his deputies Ronnie and Mindy in a typical American town called Centerville. The town is severely laid back, with a typical day revolving around when to get coffee and donuts from the cultural hub, the local diner.

Then things go awry: Due to polar fracking, the Earth spins off its access, and the dead begin to rise. The days become longer; the electronic gadgets we rely upon go dead; and people start getting unsolicited neck bites from formerly live neighbors. Some characters, including those played by Murray and Driver, react in a way that is so disorganized and disconnected that they practically deserve to die.

This, perhaps, is a not-so-veiled statement about our current administration’s strange attitude toward global warming. Actually, there’s no doubt: Jarmusch hates Trump, and this is an anti-Trump zombie movie. Steve Buscemi plays a racist resident who dons a red and white MAGA hat, except his actually says “Make America White Again.”

The pacing of this movie is really slow … Jarmusch slow. In fact, the pacing is so slow that the lumbering George Romero-style zombies are almost sprinting compared to what is going on around them. Your ability to like this film depends very much upon your willingness to let the things happening onscreen linger and, in some cases, get dragged out.

The film does contain a moment of genuine terror when a zombie couple takes out two waitresses at the diner. The zombies feast upon the dying with—yes, I’ll reference the zombie master again—Romero-like goriness, right down to intestine-chomping. The moment is ultra-creepy because one of the victims does not die immediately, and she expresses her agony loudly. The zombies are played by Iggy Pop (often a Jarmusch collaborator) and Sara Driver as rock groupies with caffeine addictions. Live flesh is great when it comes to feasting, but what they really need is a good cup of joe, like many among the multitudes currently crowding Starbucks and indie cafes across our great nation.

Murray and Adam Driver are both very funny, with Murray’s Cliff representing the old-school, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-to-the-point-where-I-will-barely-react part of society, and Driver’s Ronnie providing the semi-hipster outlook. It is Ronnie who calmly declares that they are in the midst of an apocalypse while never losing his deadpan face. He’s a lot younger than the equally deadpan Cliff, and will probably catch up to Cliff’s level of disinterest very soon.

Other Jarmusch stalwarts include Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword-wielding funeral-home director, a role only Swinton could play. Tom Waits (Down by Law) plays the mystic homeless guy commentating on Centerville’s demise, of course. Who else would he play?

I am a big fan of Jarmusch’s work, and even I couldn’t get past the pacing at times. A couple of days later, when I reflected upon the picture, it hit me that I liked the movie a lot more after I saw it than I did while watching it. His films tend to get that sort of delayed reaction out of me.

The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday, June 14, at the Century Theatres and XD at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940).

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