I have to say that I liked “The Dead Don’t Die.” It feels a lot like Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” doesn’t just seem to feel like his effort to give his own spin to the sub-genre, but it also feels like the proving ground for the man to be as bizarre and often stupid as he possibly can. With “The Dead Don’t Die” it’s a bit of an experimental and bizarre zombie comedy that has absolutely no breaks on. It throws everything at the wall to see what sticks, from terrible breaking of the fourth wall, clunky symbolism (chairs that look like tombstones! Hah! Get it?), sub-plots that go nowhere, and space ships.
The small, sleepy town of Centerville, USA is witness to the beginning of an unusual event as Earth’s axis is thrown off, prompting a major change in nature. Everything from the animals to basic plant life has all begun acting absolutely bonkers and the locals are curious as to why. It’s not long before the dead begin inexplicably rising from their graves, and they begin drifting around their old home, staggering to their old stomping grounds and feasting on the locals. Now its up to three local officers, and a Scottish katana wielding mortician to figure out what’s happening.
Much of “The Dead Don’t Die” feels wholly incomplete or half baked, and Jarmusch seems to want to mask that by insisting on humor that is just clunky and frankly stupid. He spends an obscene amount of time establishing the characters of Centersville for reasons never actually justified within the structure of the narrative. There’s even an implication that perhaps the whole movie is just a delusion from the mind of Tom Waits’ eccentric survivalist character, but nothing is ever confirmed for the audience. I don’t mind a healthy bit of ambiguity, but any of the tricks Jarmusch pulls in the narrative would be considered cheap with a lesser known director.
He sets up characters for minutes only for them to die off screen, conflicts are propped up without any pay off, and there are characters that literally run off the movie to whom we never see again (the spaceship—c-can someone explain that to me?). Even after reading an interview with Jarmusch who explains a lot of the film’s beats, “The Dead Don’t Die” stills just feels like half a script with zombies tacked on. That said, Jarmusch knows how to direct some damn fine moments of horror, even staging some really spooky moments of the dead rising from the grave and drifting in to the town. Jarmusch compensates for the lack of explanation for the zombies’ existence with some great zombie designs.
There are also some creepy moments of zombies terrorizing the locals, including the scene in the youth detention center, especially as the only three surviving members look on without a hint as to how to escape. The climax in the police car with the zombies mentally terrorizing the surviving characters also worked well. In either case, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a solid zombie movie that works more than it doesn’t, even when Jarmusch comes off more confused than trying to re-think the sub-genre. It’s by no means as smart or original as it thinks it is, but it’s worth experimenting with if you’re in the mood for something completely out of the ordinary.