Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), and Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) run the police department in the small town of Centerville. While Cliff and Ronnie are investigating one of Farmer Frank’s (Steve Buscemi) missing chickens, they notice things don’t seem quite right. Despite it being well after 8:00 pm, the sun is still shining brightly. Animals are acting strangely. Scientists blame all of it on polar fracking throwing the Earth off its normal rotation, though some doubt that assessment. Ronnie has a feeling this is going to end badly.
That night, two employees of the local diner are attacked by what appears to be a wild animal, or perhaps several wild animals. Ronnie is convinced the attack is the result of zombies. Cliff and most of the residents of Centerville don’t believe this is possible and continue with their lives as best they can. It isn’t until a full-on zombie apocalypse hits the town that people begin to understand just how dire the situation is. They must act quickly to stop the zombie horde from destroying everyone and everything in their town.
The Dead Don’t Die puts together an amazing cast. Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and Tilda Swinton are among the main characters. Cameos and smaller characters played by Carol Kane, Rosie Perez, RZA, Caleb Landry Jones, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, and Selena Gomez just add to roster of fun and destruction. It really Adam Driver’s movie. He steals every scene with his deadpan delivery. The most memorable lines and gags come from his character. Without him, the film wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.
The story is a bit far-fetched, with the basis that our actions have caused the Earth to reanimate the dead. That is all well and good. It is meant to be a comedic zombie movie, in the vein of Zombieland. Most of the jokes land solidly, whether it is the familiarity and repetition of the theme song – “The Dead Don’t Die” – or simply the repetition of certain jokes for punctuation. It is the small things like this and the small things, like Driver’s keychain, that make the film work. It is beautifully self-aware at times.
The problem is writer/director Jim Jarmusch apparently tried to keep the film brief to avoid the jokes getting a little too worn or the film overstaying its welcome. If this was his intent, I get where he is coming from. If the film got too much longer, it would lose its punch. However, in keeping it at a trim 1 hour 47 minutes, he doesn’t give himself enough time to flush much of the story out. Characters are introduced and then dispatched too quickly to give them a purpose. It gives the impression they were just added to put their names on the poster. Many of the storylines that are introduced are never developed or resolved. While I appreciate what is mostly a satisfying ending, the movie pulls an “unexpected” move straight out of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that makes you scratch your head at what the whole point of that character and their storyline were all about.
The Dead Don’t Die is the style of “horror” movie I like, taking a popular theme and turning it into a dark comedy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver as well as it could and should have. Given the cast and the sometimes subtle, usually clever humor, it should have been a much better movie. As it stands, it is a letdown. If you’re itching to see it, wait for the rental. And while you’re waiting, rewatch Zombieland. It’s a much better comedy-horror movie, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with a sequel that will hopefully be on par with the original.