Five years after he injected some much-needed life into vampire movies with the brilliant and soulful Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch puts his deadpan comedic twist on zombie flicks in the delightful The Dead Don’t Die.
Starring the writer/director’s key past collaborators, Bill Murray and Adam Driver, as police officers in the small Midwest town of Centerville, the film pits the duo — arguably the two actors who have thus far most successfully surfed Jarmusch’s distinctive tonal wavelength — against reanimated corpses from the local cemetery. The apparent cause for the global supernatural event is polar fracking that’s altered Earth’s rotation and somehow awakened the dead.
With help from a nervous female colleague (Chloë Sevigny), their attempts to find a solution to Centerville’s sudden rise in population smoothly weaves in such side characters as a salty hermit (Tom Waits), a racist farmer (Steve Buscemi) and the town’s new funeral home director, played by Tilda Swinton as something akin to a robotic, Scottish version of The Bride from Kill Bill, down to the samurai sword skills.
Expertly balancing the largest cast of his career, Jarmusch also finds room for humorous nuggets like RZA working for a Wu-Tang Clan parcel delivery service, Rosie Perez as a TV news reporter whose name is a goofy twist on the actress’ own, and Driver’s unusual taste in personal vehicles.
Glorious as the silly events are to experience and impressive though the visual effects for zombie decapitations may be, The Dead Don’t Die is peppered with elements that could infuriate viewers unfamiliar with Jarmusch’s particular brand of quirkiness.
Among the likely irritants are the repetitions of several lines of dialogue as well as a certain Sturgill Simpson song — multiple uses that are part of the film’s self-aware and self-referencing nature, including characters familiar with zombie movies, a few of whom recognize that they’re in one themselves and comment accordingly.
Furthermore, the pleasant yet largely inconsequential storylines involving separate groups of young people may also test certain audience members’ patience, and probably could be cut and wouldn’t be missed. But by preserving them, Jarmusch augments The Dead Don’t Die’s rich sense of place and its focus on the individuals affected by the zombie apocalypse, and in turn crafts one of the year’s best films to date.
Starts June 14 at the Fine Arts Theatre