Few filmmakers have deconstructed movie genres better than Jim Jarmusch. Whether it be the western with Dead Man, the vampire film in Only Lovers Left Alive, or mobster/samurai flick in Ghost Warrior - Jarmusch tells his stories in a minor key and The Dead Don't Die is no exception.
The film begins with the standard shots of a creepy graveyard. Chief Cliff (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver) are investigating reports of stolen chickens. Murray and Driver are deadpan as a zoned out Andy Griffith and Barney Fife in the small town of Centerville, "a nice place to live." They're also vaguely aware they may exist in a horror movie. News reports start to come in of the earth's rotation being out of whack due to fracking, a rumor the energy department dismisses as alarmist.
Jarmusch regulars populate the film. Danny Glover runs the hardware store and Tilda Swinton goes full on mystical as the funeral home manager/martial arts master. Tom Waits appears as a philosophical Grizzly Adams and Steve Buscemi is the local MAGA man. The Americana here is still one of people having conversations in diners, cars, and gas stations. Centerville is the last place to get the news - receiving it through a huge RCA radio was an especially nice touch.
As a chamber piece The Dead Don't Pie has the feel of a 1950s screamers like The Blob or Them! George Romero's zombie films Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are referenced several times in meaningful and clever ways. Driver's Deputy Ronnie states many times in a recurring joke, "this isn't going to end well." Welcome to 2019 America.
The town is ill equipped and has no chance of stopping the zombie infestation. Centerville looks like a mid-century time warp with all of the old radios and cars featured on screen. The country music channel is the only one going. Everyone's clinging desperately to a sense of the past that's delusional and fictional. No one is looking to the future, everyone's lost in a retro time warp - not unlike the virtual world in Ready Player One. The line between the living and dead blurs in more ways than one.
Did I mention this a comedy? A more "dead on" than most of what passes for mainstream comedy these days. Jarmusch reminds the end of time will be a riot. The increasingly nihilistic tone of the in the last 20 minutes dares us to sit back and laugh at the macabre spectacle playing out. And stupid zombie movies. And stupid Americana. And stupid authority. The Dead Don't Die is a masterpiece in catharsis.
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