Cannes 2019: The Dead Don’t Die review

(L to R) Bill Murray as "Officer Cliff Robertson", Chloë Sevigny as "Officer Minerva Morrison" and Adam Driver as "Officer Ronald Peterson" in writer/director Jim Jarmusch's THE DEAD DON'T DIE, a Focus Features release. Credit : Abbot Genser / Focus Features © 2019 Image Eleven Productions, Inc.


Arch American indie icon and silver fox Jim Jarmusch lurches up the Cannes Croisette with the opening film The Dead Don’t Die, an undeadpan comedy which dies halfway through and fails to reanimate itself.

Jarmusch’s previous exercises in genre have been triumphant morphings of cinema staples into his own world view. Down by Law daringly deconstructed the prison escape movie; Dead Man played with the western; Only Lovers Left Alive gave new life to the twilit vampire flick. But with his new horror-comedy, The Dead Don’t Die, Jarmusch has opted for a stumbling dead so indulgently pleased with itself that it resembles little more than a precocious home movie filled with familiar faces pals all of whom find the joke funnier than any audience will.

Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver) are investigating stolen chickens in the woods. Such is the level of drama in Centerville – ‘A real nice place’ is the town’s Fargo-esque motto – until polar fracking causes a shift in the axis of the Earth and among other effects the dead walk once more. With the aid of the Scottish mortician Zelda (Tilda Swinton) and woefully inept police officer Mindy (a wasted Chloë Sevigny), the citizens need to defend themselves from the undead.

Zombies have often been used as social commentary, most obviously in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the undead lay siege to a shopping mall in a telling attack on brain dead consumerism. Here the ghouls stagger around groaning for wi-fi, cheap chardonnay and coffee. Just in case you didn’t get it, helpful vagrant Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) observes from afar with authorially approved commentary. The subtext is exhumed into on the nose text. That’s not to say there aren’t some witty sallies and the strength of the cast allows for some fun moments, but Iggy Pop, Murray, RZA and company are all having more fun than we.

The worst crime, however, has to be how neglected the horror is. From Carry on Screaming to Shaun of the Dead, successful horror comedies are genuinely scary as well as funny. The screams are Tabasco to the laughs. Here, Jarmusch has zero interest in chills, preferring a meta-cinema commentary of VI-th form level with comments about the script and the theme song. With zombies dissolving into clouds of Blade-ish CGI dust, not only are the kills bloodless – so is the film.

The 72nd Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May.

John Bleasdale | @drjonty