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Zombie comedies, or any genre/comedy mashups for that matter, are pretty hard to nail. With the subgenre still relatively young, especially in when it comes to contemporary approaches, there’s been some pretty big hits, but also quite a few misses sitting in the outfields of obscurity. It’s something that audiences will definitely be thinking about when approaching The Dead Don’t Die, and they’re absolutely correct in walking in with some measured optimism. That being said, while this film is an enjoyable romp, it’s definitely not for everyone.
The Dead Don’t Die’s zombie apocalypse kicks off with the world literally thrown off of its axis thanks to some recent polar fracking. As if electromagnetic disturbances, only one song playing on the radio, and the lunar cycle being way off aren’t bad enough side effects, the dead start to rise from their supposedly eternal slumber. Naturally, his leaves a small town police force (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloe Sevigny), townsfolk (Steve Buscemi and Danny Glover), and the rest of the world in pretty grave danger.
Writer/director Jim Jarmusch is the last person you’d expect to take the zombie comedy genre out for a test drive, that is exactly what he’s doing here. The story to the film almost feels like a direct riff on Night Of The Living Dead, with the sleepy Pennsylvania setting and the Romero-esque political message providing the core of the plot. But among all of those elements is the author’s typical deadpan humor, something that helps distance this film away from some of others of its similar ilk. For a film that occupies the zombie/comedy crossroads, the balance is firmly in the favor of the comedy side of things. There are wide swaths of The Dead Don’t Die where the film focuses more on the characters and their confused reactions to the impending apocalypse with nary a member of the undead in sight.
While that’s certainly not a problem, it results in a film that is not as fast and funny as the trailers suggest. It’s in that respect that those more familiar with Jim Jarmusch’s previous works will get more out of this film than newcomers hoping for an affair more reminiscent of Zombieland.
Also in very Jarmuschian fashion is the fact that The Dead Don’t Die boasts a cast so notable and voluminous that it proves challenged to have everyone in the same room. This fractures the story a little bit, as while’s there’s a lot of action withe the teaming of Murray, Driver, and Sevigny, there are plenty of stories and gags that don’t go anywhere by time the film ends. One moment, you’re expecting Caleb Landry Jones and Selena Gomez to meet again, and the next the credits are rolling without even a second glance.
It’s even more of a shame that there are so many big names in The Dead Don’t Die, as the entire cast feels game for whatever Jim Jarmusch can throw at them. Maybe that’s part of the point of The Dead Don’t Die, as the film isn’t in love with matching any sort of expectations that the audience has for it. Anyone can go at any time, and not every story gets resolved when all is said and done; much like life itself.
It’s a confident move, for sure, but it’s definitely going to upset some audience members, and confuse others. There’s enough moments of meta-humor that movie-goers will be with or against in a heartbeat, especially when absorbing a narrative that’s does drag a bit like the living dead itself in some places, and hammer home its political allegiances in others.
The trick to enjoying The Dead Don’t Die is to basically take it as it comes. Go in with no expectations, and the most open mind possible, and let the film work its magic on its own terms. It’s not a perfect film, but by no means is it a total shambling mess, with a slow and steady pulse that definitely pays tribute to the George A. Romero school of zombie stories.