The Dead Dont Die - Movie Review
Updated: Jan 7
By Movie Knight
The Dead Don't Die (2019) Review
It's ironic really that the zombie genre is one which, like it's subject matter just doesn't die. It's a genre that I've personally loved ever since I first watched the Romero classic Night of the Living Dead; every year we get a plethora more which is great for zombie lovers.
So like most people when I first watched the trailer for The Dead Don't Die I was excited. Not only was it a new zombie movie but the cast was one worth returning from the dead for. Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day), Adam Driver (Star Wars: Episode VII, Blackkklansman), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, Suspiria), Iggy Pop (The Crow: City of Angels)...the list goes on. With this much talent on board, how could the film fail to deliver? Right? Sadly though, the cast list is one of the only good things about this film.
After small-town police officers, Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Driver) get called out to a gruesome scene at the local diner, it's not long* before they find themselves and their peaceful town overrun from the dead. Things can only end one way...badly!
On paper, The Dead Don't Die has everything to make it one of the best zombie comedies since Zombieland (2009). It certainly has all the elements that I want from a film: great cast, zombies, a crazy left-field ending...So what went wrong for Director Jim Jarmusch? Firstly let's talk about *the pacing. It takes a good while for the plot to get going, but when it finally does...it still doesn't do much. It's like being stuck behind a pensioner, only to get past them to find your way blocked by a toddler. I could overlook the slow pace if the comedy or horror was on point, but sadly it fails in both of these departments too.
With the exception of Return of the Living Dead, talking zombies generally put me off; so when they showed up here I lowered my expectations. Sure, I may have let out a guffaw – or was it a groan? Elsewhere most of the 'jokes' came across as 'weird funny' as opposed to laughing out loud funny. There's a running joke of Officer Peterson saying, “This is going to end badly,” the final punchline of which turns out to be some Meta joke which just doesn't fit with the rest of the film. That said, the entire sequence by this point is just one big WTF moment. That's what bugs me though - crazy unexpected strange moments are what I live for in movies, but here, it just didn't work. Possibly because the slow pacing made it such a drag to get here.
As for the horror, don't come in expecting a good scare, instead, it's more about the gore - and even then it's limited. Don't get me wrong, the special FX are very well done and I do enjoy watching a person get eaten alive (don't judge me), and the deaths you do see are gory enough to keep a gore fiend satisfied, but they're just few and far between. We also get to see the odd zombie bite the dust - and I mean that literally... zombie slaughter in this film doesn't come with blood, instead, you just get black dust - it's just a bit disappointing. I suppose there is at least a couple of good kill moments though, so it's not an entire loss.
So where else did the film go wrong you ask? Well, that would be the wasted cast. And with the calibre of talent on offer here, I think that is what's most disappointing.
When you have Bill Murray in your film, you should have won over at least half your audience already. It's a shame that his talents just aren't put to good use here. It's hard to tell at times if it's the character that's uninterested, or if it's the actor. Although it's always good to see him on screen, kind of like having your favourite Uncle pop round. It's just a shame that his small role in the aforementioned Zombieland is more memorable than his entire screen time here. Adam Driver, on the other hand, steals the show. His deadpan delivery is a highlight of the film and he probably has the best all-round character: from his tiny Smart Car to his Star Wars keyring - if I ever decide to give the film another go it will probably be to watch this performance again.
It's clear from the beginning that Murray and Driver are the stars of the show because from here the rest of that impressive cast list become nothing more than glorified cameos. Tilda Swinton gets the largest of these small roles in what could be considered her own mini plotline which starts off as the new Scottish, samurai sword-wielding mortician and culminates in what could be the films biggest WTF moment, It's also completely irrelevant to anything else that's going on. Iggy Pop plays a zombie or just himself, I couldn't really tell but if you watched the trailer then you've already seen 50% of his performance. Glover, Buscemi and the rest of the names on the poster although given named characters act as nothing more than zombie fodder. It's pretty obvious that getting the names on the poster was nothing more than a publicity stunt. We all remember Movie 43, or more importantly, nobody remembers it. It's the same problem here get a lot of names involved to cover up the fact you have very little film to show.
It's hard to tell where the problems come from, was this the Directors attempt to do something different? Was this the best they could get from a terrible script? Maybe it was just a quick payday for everyone involved? Maybe I just didn't 'get it'? Who knows. In any case, it certainly doesn't rank as the worst zombie film I've ever seen, but you won't be missing out if you give it a miss. I may return to it one day and perhaps I'll see something in it that I didn't catch the first time but for now it does stand as one of 2019's biggest disappointments.
“It's better to burn out than to fade away”