The police of a small town have to deal with the arrival of the zombie apocalypse in The Dead Don’t Die. It’s a routine day for Centerville police chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his deputy Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver), as they pay a visit to Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) to ask him if he stole a chicken from Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi). However, things become non-routine when there is a couple grisly deaths at the local diner. It turns out that a change in the Earth’s axis caused by polar fracking has resulted in the dead to rise from their graves. As the zombie outbreak increases, Cliff, Ronnie, and fellow officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) head out to try and protect the town, leaving the station in the capable hands of samurai sword wielding mortician Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton).
Six years after tackling vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch creates a zombie film with the “greatest cast ever disassembled.” Indeed, one of the key selling points of The Dead Don’t Die is the all-star cast. Some of these actors have sizable roles, such as Danny Glover as hardware store proprietor Hank Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones as gas station attendant Bobby Wiggins, and Rosie Perez as TV news reporter Posie Juarez. However, other members of the cast are stunt-casted as either victims or zombies, which includes Iggy Pop, RZA, Carol Kane, and Selena Gomez.
With a plot that’s filled with a very absurd and deadpan sense of humour, it is quite obvious that Jim Jarmusch was more interested in structuring The Dead Don’t Die as more of a dark comedy, than a serious horror film. However, it is also obvious that Jarmusch is heavily influenced by George A. Romero’s zombie films, particularly Night of the Living Dead. In fact, just like Romero, The Dead Don’t Die is filled with much social commentary about the world we live in, which includes Farmer Miller wearing a “Keep America White Again” hat and news reports stating that the government is ignoring the scientific evidence that polar fracking is killing the planet.
The bulk of the plot of The Dead Don’t Die is built around the banter between Cliff and Ronnie. This includes a couple of moments that deliberately break the fourth wall and winks to the audience. One example would be the praise given to the film’s titular theme song, a country number performed by Sturgill Simpson, which plays a number of times throughout the film, along with the atmospheric score performed by Jim Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL.
Another standout performance in the film is Tilda Swinton, sporting a Scottish accent, as the very unusual mortician Zelda Winston. Swinton’s performance is literally out of this world, which includes her making much use of the samurai sword Zelda happens to carry around with her. It should be noted here that Jim Jarmusch has seemed to have made the conscious decision not to go overboard with the gore in The Dead Don’t Die. While there are some grisly visuals, particularly an early scene of zombies eating entrails, the choice is made for the zombies to explode into a cloud of black dust when they are shot or decapitated. This actually makes sense, since dead people don’t really have blood.
The deadpan style of The Dead Don’t Die, which never takes itself too seriously, is sure to polarize some viewers expecting a more straight-forward zombie film. However, the film is also very much what you would expect from a zombie film directed by Jim Jarmusch and while he has made better genre hybrids over the years, The Dead Don’t Die is still a quite entertaining film.