Jim Jarmusch is somewhat of a Melbourne International Film Festival darling. His most recent works, Paterson and The Stooges’ doco Gimme Danger, both featured in 2016, and his directorial debut dates all the way back to MIFF 1980 with Permanent Vacation.
Similar to Coffee and Cigarettes, The Dead Don’t Die plays out through short vignettes involving the quirky locals and visitors of Centerville which, due to the effects of polar fracking of all things, is experiencing a zombie uprising.
With his own particular brand of humour and film-buff cult status, Jarmusch’s decision to explore the low-budget zombie horror genre made perfect sense. Then, when the all-star cast was announced, it was shaping up to be the sleeper hit of the year: regular alumni Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, not to mention a few exciting new faces like Chloë Sevigny, Selina Gomez and Caleb Landry Jones.
Unfortunately for fans of Jarmusch, the cast and the entire genre, it’s all very underwhelming. This was like a seasoned chef cooking with the very best ingredients in a cuisine that matched their speciality – only to realise they forgot to add any spice. It’s bland, boring and frankly, a struggle to get through.
Sure it’s funny at times, but it’s the watered-down version of funny where you don’t laugh but think, “That’s funny”. It’s also clever at times, but not in a deep enough sense to warrant a second thought.
What’s most surprising is just how off-the-mark Jarmusch is with overused ‘meta’ devices and comments on modern society. There’s lots of talk about hipsters, technology and an obsession with pop culture, but it’s the kind of observation you expect to hear from a dorky dad who’s desperately trying to sound relevant.
Cast-wise, Driver and Murray are ultimately playing watered-down versions of themselves, and nowhere near their best. Swinton steals the show as expected, with everyone else clearly showing restraint by choice, all without the meaty dialogue to fall back on.
Anyone who was expecting The Dead Don’t Die to be the next Zombieland should probably hold off until the sequel, Double Tap, drops in October.
The Dead Don’t Die is being screened as part of Melbourne International Film Festival.