Monday 20 January 2020

Silly, self-referential comedy horror fails to draw blood

Film review: The Dead Don't Die (15), 5.5/10

Tilda Swinton as Zelda Winston in The Dead Don't Die
Tilda Swinton as Zelda Winston in The Dead Don't Die

The living are mean-spirited, spiteful and lonely, and might as well be dead, in writer-director Jim Jarmusch's off-kilter comedy, which commits half-heartedly to the gore-slathered demands of a zombie horror.

Set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Centerville - population 738, 'a real nice place' - The Dead Don't Die sinks its gnashers into myriad genres but seldom draws blood as an inconsistent tone ricochets between sinister, self-referential and silly.

There are a few nice touches like when Tilda Swinton's bonkers mortician spots a metallic Star Destroyer on the keychain of Adam Driver's cop and deadpans, 'Star Wars - excellent fiction' (Driver plays the villainous Kylo Ren in a galaxy far, far away).

Or when the three members of Centerville police department arrive in lazy succession to a grisly crime scene and come to the same conclusion about the likely culprits.

However, Jarmusch's decision to allow characters to break the fourth wall and identify themselves as actors in a ghoulish fiction undermines any efforts to make us care about the starry cast being disembowelled and dismembered by the undead.

'Why does it sound so familiar?' ponders Bill Murray's police chief as Sturgill Simpson's the Dead Don't Die emanates from his car radio.

'Because it's the theme song,' dryly responds co-star Driver.

Environmental damage wrought by fracking at the magnetic poles shifts the earth off its axis.

Centerville police chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) and officers Ronald Peterson (Driver) and Minerva Morrison (Sevigny) respond to a gruesome attack at the local diner and calls about disappearing livestock.

'This ain't gonna end well,' correctly deduces Ronald.

Nearby, quixotic undertaker Zelda Winston (Swinton) practices her samurai sword skills in the back room of the Ever After funeral home.

When night falls, corpses reanimate and Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) witnesses the devastation through binoculars.

Residents including Hank Thompson (Danny Glover), Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) and farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) arm themselves against the slavering predators.

Zombies quickly overrun Centerville including a juvenile detention building where Geronimo (Jahi Winston), Olivia (Taliyah Whitaker) and Stella (Maya Delmont) are incarcerated.

The Dead Don't Die pays homage to the satirical horrors of George A Romero with close-ups of fetid hands erupting from graves and some juicy, stomach-churning make-up effects.

Murray and Driver are masters of deadpan delivery and their low-key banter is one of the film's fleeting pleasures.

Swinton seems to be inhabiting a different plane of existence to the rest of the cast, which Jarmusch playfully squares away with a loopy twist that even the X-Files would have dismiss as fantastical.

'Kill the head,' Driver repeatedly reminds his co-stars as they repel the shuffling horde.

A greater focus on the heart might have served the film well.

Wexford People

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