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Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die (2019): A Smart Zombie Meta Movie

Image by Simon Wijers from Pixabay
Strange things are happening in the town of Centerville. A local man named Farmer Frank (wearing a hat that says "Make America White Again") angrily reports that his chickens are missing and that Bob, the local hermit, must be the culprit. The local sheriffs, Chief Cliff Robertson and Officer Ronnie Peterson, are on the case. They don't really think Bob is the guilty party. As the pair investigates the crime, the rest of the town is introduced through various scenes, and everyone has an opinion about what's really going on. As the town come to the realization that the problem is zombies, people choose to hide out, run away, or fight to the death. 

Although that's an accurate description of the plot of this movie, it doesn't quite capture the essence of the film. Don't go in expecting to find your typical zombie movie with heroic characters and "last man standing" scenario. The Dead Don't Die is a zombie film, and at the same time attempts to be a commentary on the tradition of the form as whole. Many of the familiar elements are here. You have the charming small town, and it's many quirky inhabitants. You have the various structures around town, such as the motel, local hardware store, funeral parlor, the juvenile detention center, and the diner. All are visited and used as landmarks to map out the town. Then there are the outsiders who drive in, making fun of people. There's the town hermit, and the resident geek that runs a convenience store with kitschy souvenirs and comic books. The waitress that works at the diner is nice and friendly.

Then there is Zelda Winston, played by Tilda Swinton, who is the best part of this movie, so I won't say too much about her. She is fun, and bizarre. The duo of Robertson and Peterson (Bill Murray and Adam Driver) also have a good rapport and bring much of the humor to the film. And that's important because this film is funny. Many of the characters play so deadpan that you know they are emulating characters of the past. It's an homage to the zombie flick and also a rejection of the traditional plot.

That all said, I'm not sure it worked for me. I wanted something different out of the movie. There are certain things I want out of a zombie film, and this didn't deliver. Many people will see it, though, and like it. It's clever, it's hip, and it has a stellar cast. This reminded me more of a film like Pulp Fiction, where the characters exist almost apart from the plot itself. In other words, the point is to laugh at these characters, and laugh along with the characters. The film structure is a vehicle for the characters. It's all in good fun. 


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