The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie film. Some might also call it a comedy. But, is it a horror comedy? No. In all honesty, it’s an Absurdist horror film that is equal parts Romero and Beckett. Yeah, I just threw down the pretentious asshole hammer.
Social commentary in zombie films is turning 51 this year. So, why keep hammering at the Captain Obvious sponsored through-line of American horror? Well, it’s because the inevitability of human failing never ends. Regardless of the decade, everyone eventually learns that their time is short and a crushing defeat is only a bad choice from happening. So, what do you do? Some make like Tom Waits and watches from the sidelines. Others grab a katana and look to the skies.
Jim Jarmusch is a personal favorite, but not one of my favorite directors. For a Son of Lee Marvin could never be anyone’s favorite favorite and he shouldn’t be. When a creative talent leans back like Uatu and turns narrative into a voyeuristic experience, one has to wonder his motivations. Even in his amazing film Paterson, Jarmusch uses actors like Adam Driver in a way that actively tries not to call attention to the narrative. Naturally, it never raises an eyebrow for the traditional Western audience.
But, even with The Dead Don’t Die…Jarmusch’s style requires a viewer to step back. Don’t expect the zombies or even the film to work as a horror film. What’s going on is a severe environmental event that is causing certain enlightened individuals to realize that their lives are a construct. Whether it’s acknowledging the ever-playing Sturgill Simpson song or being aware of their impending doom…they greet everything with a certain understanding.
Bill Murray plays really well into the Jarmusch universe. The same goes for RZA. They get the nature of the Zen horror film. Nothing matters as no one is really alive or dead. They’re just waiting for the story to end. For a film that plays under 2 hours, a constant wait for some sense of ending isn’t going to set the summer movie crowd on fire. However, The Dead Don’t Die will make repeat audiences pay attention.
Whether it’s Adam Driver’s casual readiness to liquidate form townspeople or the casual dismissal of all youth in the film. Everything exists to die and then return. The standard Jarmusch ensemble allows this to pop even better, because we get to see this deathly fog move freely over a wide variety of people. Bill Murray just gets to passively captain the ever-sinking ship of life. There are no Captains, just people with a little more high ground.
Sturgill Simpson sets the tone of the movie with that constant song. Playing like an Alan-a-Dale hammering the point of the film home, he might be the strongest element of the film to date. Hell, Bertolt Brecht would’ve crapped his pants at this constant crotch shot to the Fourth Wall. People love invention like this in their drama, maybe they just weren’t ready for the horror equivalent.
The Blu-ray comes with featurettes as the special features. The A/V Quality is pretty top-notch. The 1080p transfer plays dark, yet clear enough for a modern film. I found that the DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track had enough to do in the back channels. Still, it’s a better affair than what I’ve seen Jarmusch get outside of Criterion. In the end, I’d recommend it.