Prolific director Jim Jarmusch unveiled his most recent project, THE DEAD DON’T DIE, on sponsored Instagram posts and every television channel alike. To say the trailer had not been slapped in front of you at some point would be a bold-faced lie. While as confusing and campy as it’s presented, Jarmsuch’s exploits always garner intrigue from a star-studded cast. Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny and Tilda Swinton are only a few featured in this film. Although that may seem an impressive feat for what looks like tongue-in-cheek B-Horror, it’s important to remember that Jarmusch has worked with most of the aforementioned before, and his casting bias is conspicuous, to say the least.
Accurate depiction of me and my date hearing that damn song start up again
The story for THE DEAD DON’T DIE is a bizarre, but not unbelievable one. Due to oil fracking on both Poles, the Earth has spun on its axis and with it, every notion of logic or the ordinary. In the small town of Centerville, a small police unit feels the effects with shorter days and eventual reanimation of the dead. Jarmusch cleverly riffs from the DUNKIRK playbook, in a “see all sides” mentality. Nolan of course portrayed that through an aerial, naval, and ground perspective, while Jarmusch distributes screen time pretty evenly to an array of different townsfolk, including a group of young hipster passersby and three children in a Juvenile Hall facility.
The film also features Jarmusch’s go-to stilted dialogue, breaking the fourth wall, and Selena Gomez in a bra that is 2-80 sizes too small. All these notions and factors soon become subject to the question of what is self-aware and what is lazy? Furthermore, the laziness commends itself by masquerading as a pseudo-dismissal of convention, Tilda Swinton being an emblematic example, as she has obviously learned nothing from her DOCTOR STRANGE scandal, wielding a katana and sporting a penance for Japanese iconography for the majority of the film. In every passing scene the audience is perplexed as to her bizarreness and almost nonsensical existence, only to be written off as an alien that literally gets beamed up into a UFO for no discernible reason. Jarmusch, rather than assign any thought to the alien, wrote and paid Swinton to appear simply for a bit of shock value.
You cannot honestly sit there and tell me that bra is comfortable
Swinton’s character is unfortunately only a brick in the wall to the larger problem: intentionality. In the trailer alone, and certainly in the very beginning of the film, Jarmusch establishes an off-color, farcical tone. The tone is mostly propagated in the characters’ interactions with one another, especially with Bill Murray and Adam Driver, the film’s two leads. One scene in particular stands out, when Driver’s seemingly prophetic knowledge comes into question and his response is “I know how it ends because I read the script.” Bill Murray responds to this with a “Jim gave you a full script? He only gave me our scenes together.” While it’s fine and in fact refreshing to have such a direct reference to the film itself, without any consistency and only a narrative about the Earth’s axis to suspend disbelief, the audience moves away from entertainment and into confusion.
THE DEAD DON’T DIE is Jarmusch’s ode to Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, in that both films seemed like a rash and ill-planned decision to film the director’s close group of friends while they’re all in proximity to each other. To his credit, Jarmusch expended more effort for his film—not much, but a little more. Unfortunately, though, with such a lackadaisical and frankly apathetic mindset encapsulating the film as a whole, any chance for intellectual discussion or cerebral thought becomes pointless. Your approving thought of “I kind of like that it feels like a high school play” devolves into “Maybe it’s just bad”. And if “maybe it’s just bad” is all you can say, then… well… maybe it’s just bad.