The Dead Don't Die
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 15 May 2019
Cannes 2019: Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton star in Jim Jarmusch's idiosyncratic take on the zombie film
There's a great joke in the gloriously dark 'Teddy Perkins' episode of Atlanta that targets the flagrant fascism of Trump's America; a character takes a marker and deletes the letters on a confederate flag hat, turning the words 'Southern Made' into 'U Mad?'. Jim Jarmusch adopts a similar approach as he addresses the state of the nation and global ecological catastrophe in this deadpan zombie apocalypse movie that goes straight for the jugular by placing Steve Buscemi's racist farmer in a MAGA-style cap that simply states 'Keep America White Again'.
Jarmusch has a history of toying with genre, most recently with the culture-sucking vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive. Once again, he places his own unique stamp on the living dead by making the humans criminally dumb and apathetic, and the zombies thirsty for coffee, Wi-Fi and candy. It's also a love letter to the late George A Romero, with direct nods galore.
Amassing a cast of stellar collaborators such as Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, RZA and Tom Waits, and signing up indie-horror royalty Larry Fessenden, Jarmusch leads the viewer through small-town America with a host of typically idiosyncratic characters. Swinton as a Scottish samurai sword-wielding mortician works her usual magic, Caleb Landry Jones serves up the goods as a horror film geek / gas attendant, and Chloë Sevigny excels as a dangerously empathetic cop.
It's the visual gags, such as Driver's cop dramatically swerving up to a gory crime scene in a tiny smart car, that keep the blood pumping, while Jarmusch bites down hard on capitalism, consumerism and race relations in a film that's akin to Joe Dante's Matinee in its satire of wilfully destructive human behaviour. If it fails to expand on its critique of correctional facilities in a satisfactory fashion, the charmingly silly humour carries it along.
Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 12 Jul.