Review: The Dead Don't Die (2019)
Title: The Dead Don't Die (opens in theaters June 14th)
Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Waits
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Bias: I've only seen on Jim Jarmusch film, have a limited interest in zombie movies, but horror-comedies are my preferred subgenre of horror films, and, y'know, it's Bill Murray.
In a Nutshell: In the town of Centerville, a zombie apocalypse seems to have broken out, and it's up to the local sheriff (Murray) and his two deputies (Driver, Sevigny) to try and do something about it.
The Critique: The expression "What did I just watch?" can work a couple of different ways. It might refer to a film that's shockingly bad, one that's just shocking, or (on some occasions) a film that manages to be utterly unlike what you expected, and you're surprised and delighted because of how rarely that happens. Thankfully, The Dead Don't Die falls squarely into the latter category, and that it manages to do so in the doubly well-trod ground of a zombie film and a zombie comedy is to its credit.
Thanks to AMC A-List I was able to catch an early screening, so I'm going to avoid spoilers as much as possible.
This film is, for all intents and purposes, a "hangout movie" (an expression that may have originated with the Pure Cinema Podcast). What that means is it's a movie that might have flaws, might be messy, and might not entirely work, but the pleasure of spending time with the actors and characters outweighs all of that and makes it a film you'd gladly watch multiple times. The cast is, across the board, perfect in their roles in ways that are both familiar (Bill Murray is so quintessentially Bill Murray in this movie that he can get laughs with a look) and unfamiliar (I never would have imagined Adam Driver being capable of being as dryly funny as he is). Even Tilda Swinton is playing the most Tilda Swinton character possible - an albino, Scottish mortician with a samurai hobby and a very specific way of walking and speaking. That barely scratches the surface of the ensemble (and ignores my favorite character, Hermit Bob) and watching them slowly and reluctantly attempt to deal with something entirely out of their depths helps to offset the consistently languid pace of the film.
In many ways, describing this as a zombie horror-comedy is about as accurate a description as describing Twin Peaks as a mystery about a dead girl. Sure, it's that. But it's the ways that it's approaching that story that make it stand out. Similarly, The Dead Don't Die isn't really a zombie movie as social commentary, and is more a zombie movie that is often social commentary about zombie movies and the audiences that consume (pun, regretfully, intended) them. At the same time, it's a love letter to those films, that gleefully (though quietly) indulges in the same excesses, while also keeping the focus pretty squarely on a very real and familiar-feeling small town life.
Ultimately, the pace does wear a bit, at times, and there's a fine line between utilizing, subverting, and over-using genre tropes, and I'm not sure that movie is overly-concerned with where that line is. The film is also the definition of self-indulgent, which might, understandably, wear on some. It's not the sheer bit of perfection that Shaun of the Dead manages to be, but it's very much it's own thing and worth checking out just to see if that "thing" is for you, or not.
Shout-Out: "The Dead Don't Die" by Sturgill Simpson IS a pretty great song.
To-Go, to Rent, or Stream: Though it's not particularly cinematic, and might not be for everyone, I think it's a perfect matinee movie, and plays great with a crowd (albeit, the right crowd).