Zombie movies are a tired genre at this point. But when you have a cast as loaded as the one in The Dead Don’t Die, there is always hope. And after you watch the movie and realize it is hilarious in a deadpan way and has important things to say about the world (like, about the actual world), there is a relieved feeling that follows.
What if the zombie apocalypse was started because of polar fracking? Because that’s how this movie says it started. From the beginning, it puts real meaning and stakes into what is going on for the living characters that we are following. In the setting of this zombie movie, starting from the beginning of the “outbreak” is very important. It establishes that this is modern times, and not some post-apocalyptic future. It is saying, “Watch out, this could happen right now in real life.”
Now, writer/director Jim Jarmusch isn’t warning us against a literal zombie apocalypse. He’s warning us of the effects of what we are doing to the earth. In this film, the zombies go right back to whatever the person loved to do the most. It’s showing us the way that we are allowing all of this to happen without giving it a second thought, which is quite poignant.
Jarmusch frames this all in small sections revolving around different characters or groups of characters, each with a specific metaphorical function. There are characters who are meant to represent anything from the person who has always seen this coming, to humanity’s only hope, to utter hopelessness, each of which make you take a step back and reflect on what you are watching.
What makes the movie watchable and enjoyable in the midst of its bleakness, though, is its humor. There is a dry, stilted feeling to almost every line reading from Adam Driver and Bill Murray, a ridiculousness to Steve Buscemi and Tilda Swinton, and a pessimism to Chloë Sevigny. To mix these aspects in with a meta and self-referential script makes it all gel together well.
But it is ultimately the direction that makes The Dead Don’t Die as great as it is. Its slow pacing is deliberate so that you can take in all that is going on. The slow burn of the whole thing leading up to the end (that may or may not make much sense) is necessary to make the film work. There is plenty of flesh on the bones for you to sink your teeth into. You just need to be able to grab it.