'Cheeky-hipster' zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die splits critics at Cannes
Critics weigh in on Jim Jarmusch's zombie movie starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, and Selena Gomez.
The Dead Don’t Die is (semi) undead on arrival.
Jim Jarmusch’s first zombie movie — starring Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny, and Adam Driver as a trio of police officers battling their way through an undead apocalypse overtaking their small town — held its world-premiere screening Tuesday as the 2019 Cannes Film Festival’s opening night selection, landing as the first of 21 titles competing for the prestigious Palme d’Or prize. And critics on the Croisette have, thus far, evenly split on their reactions to the film.
In a negative review, Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman describes the film as a “cheeky-hipster” zombie satire that operates with a “shrug of blasé self-consciousness” as it lampoons domestic culture — particularly Middle American society and millennial mindsets.
“Jim Jarmusch’s undeadpan comedy is laconic, lugubrious and does not entirely come to life, despite many witty lines and tremendously assured performances by an A-list cast,” writes The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “It’s a droll if directionless riff on a fondly remembered, affectionately reanimated genre: the middle-America zombie nightmares of George A. Romero, when the flesh-munching bodies tumble out of their graves, now utterly surrendered to the conformism, consumerism and cannibalistic narcissism that ate away their souls, long before their ostensible death.”
Writing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich also notes that the film “targets Trump” via its undead symbols: “We all know — to quote a line from the film — that ‘Nothing is happening normally right now,’ but it’s hard not to be paralyzed by the absurdity of it all,” reads his review. “If Jarmusch’s latest often feels as though it lacks a pulse, this star-studded parable is held together by one consistent truth: When Hell is full, the dead will walk the Earth. And when the Earth is f—ed, the living will do whatever they can to sleepwalk through the nightmare.”
The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin also praises the film’s satirical perspective.
“Despite its familiar faces and marketable premise, The Dead Don’t Die is purebred Jarmusch – and much lighter on its feet than his last horror-themed project, the 2013 vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive,” he writes. “It embraces the genre’s satirical heritage that dates back to George A. Romero – some corpses stumble around gazing at their smartphones while balefully croaking ‘WiFi… WiFi…,’ others wash down their human entrails with cups of coffee – but without the knowing smirk or self-important scowl here of the type that stymied the likes of Zombieland or The Walking Dead.”
Also starring Selena Gomez, Tilda Swinton (singled out by many critics for her performance), Rosie Perez, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Austin Butler, and Carol Kane as the town’s peculiar residents (some of whom mumble words like “chardonnay” in their undead state), The Dead Don’t Die marks Jarmusch’s 13th feature as a director. The 66-year-old wrote and helmed the horror-comedy hybrid ahead of its Cannes debut following a long history with the festival, having won the Camera d’Or for Stranger Than Paradise in 1984 before screening other shorts (Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California) and features (Grand Prix winner Broken Flowers, Palme d’Or competitor Paterson) more recently.
Jarmusch previously teamed with Swinton for another creature-focused, horror-inspired project called Only Lovers Left Alive, which followed the Oscar-winning actress and Tom Hiddleston as vampires engaged in a centuries-spanning romance.
Ahead of the film’s June 14 theatrical bow via Focus Features, read on for more critic reviews for The Dead Don’t Die out of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival below.
David Ehrlich (IndieWire):
“Lethargic even by Jarmusch’s unhurried standards, The Dead Don’t Die is best appreciated as an antidote to the aimless melodrama of The Walking Dead. Besides the end of the world, almost nothing of note happens in this movie. The apocalypse — broadly telegraphed with the help of a concerned television news anchor (Rosie Perez as Posie Juarez), some loose chatter about the manmade evils of ‘polar fracking,’ and a few lo-fi effects shots of the moon glowing purple — is obvious enough to make most of the characters shrug at the inevitable. Officer Peterson seems to know that he’s in a zombie movie, and spends most of his time muttering that things aren’t going to end well. A trio of carefree youths (headlined by a very meme-able Selena Gomez) roll into town as if to provide fresh meat and prove his point. The whole film is stuck in a daze; one that comes without the blissed out surrender of Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter):
“The dead don’t die, and neither does the zombie genre, with Jim Jarmusch’s slim but fun hipster take on the format’s familiar tropes. A small Eastern town becomes notably smaller as the undead rise to chew upon a flavorsome cast that’s methodically ripped apart, feasted upon and otherwise pretty thoroughly decimated by the time Sturgill Simpson’s nifty title tune plays out for the final time. The never exhausted format’s enduring appeal should assure a decent early summer turnout, although the primacy of attitude over scares will likely prevent it from drawing the fright-seeking mobs.
Tim Grierson (Screen Daily):
“A wry, bitter sense of resignation permeates The Dead Don’t Die, an off-kilter zombie film by Jim Jarmusch which sees very little in the world that is worth saving. Set in a universe where characters are aware of the undead from other horror movies, this scary/funny concoction is uneven and clearly indebted to pioneers such as George A. Romero, who long ago understood that zombies could be effective metaphors for scores of social woes. And yet, Jarmusch, who often bends genres to fit his idiosyncratic vision, lands at something uniquely unsettling and dispiriting, launching a broadside against materialism, Trump’s America and our collective apathy. It gets its point across, no matter how inelegantly.”
Ben Kroll (The Wrap):
“Again, it all goes down smooth in the scene-to-scene. Really, it’s quite fun to spot the car from Night of the Living Dead in one shot, and knowingly laugh when seeing Adam Driver sporting a Star Wars keychain in another. But even once the dead start returning en masse and our heroes start aiming for the heads, the film never moves beyond that register of droll irony. Like a bluesman sticking to his favorite riff, Jarmusch skillfully plays within the confines of his comfort zone without ever venturing too far away. Only, the cocktail of winking self-awareness and studied nonchalance is not strong enough to last the length of an entire film.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety):
“What does a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie look like? It looks like just what you’d expect: a cheeky hipster walking-dead comedy that surveys the apocalypse with a shrug of blasé self-consciousness. (It seems to be saying, ‘The dead are rising! And what else is new?’)…. all that Jarmusch really adds to this well-worn genre is a wink of meta japery that teeters between the amusing and the annoying. He’s saying, ‘Look! It’s Jim Jarmusch making a zombie movie!’ And yes, the film is that rib-nudging in its self-awareness; when Ronnie mentions ‘the script,’ he’s not talking about some writing project he’s got stashed away in a drawer. Ronnie also keeps saying ‘This is gonna end badly,’ a line so archly pessimistic that you just know it’s got to be film’s self-fulfilling refrain. The Dead Don’t Die fancies itself a cutting-edge macabre comedy, but the truth is that it’s behind the curve of pop culture. That’s why it’s a disappointing trifle.”
Robbie Collin (The Telegraph)
“Yet despite its familiar faces and marketable premise, The Dead Don’t Die is purebred Jarmusch – and much lighter on its feet than his last horror-themed project, the 2013 vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. It embraces the genre’s satirical heritage that dates back to George A. Romero – some corpses stumble around gazing at their smartphones while balefully croaking ‘WiFi… WiFi…,’ others wash down their human entrails with cups of coffee – but without the knowing smirk or self-important scowl here of the type that stymied the likes of Zombieland or The Walking Dead…. This is a winningly eccentric film, as attuned in its own way to the rhythms of ordinary life as Jarmusch and Driver’s (even better) 2016 feature Paterson. But there is a pessimism gnawing away in its gut that can’t be laughed off. ‘I guess all those ghost people plumb lost their goddamn minds,’ Waits wearily intones. Right on.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian):
“It’s a droll if directionless riff on a fondly remembered, affectionately reanimated genre: the middle-America zombie nightmares of George A. Romero, when the flesh-munching bodies tumble out of their graves, now utterly surrendered to the conformism, consumerism and cannibalistic narcissism that ate away their souls, long before their ostensible death. The Dead Don’t Die naturally alludes to these traditional satirical expressions of zombie-ism – we get zombie teens mumbling ‘wifi …’ – there are hints at Samuel Fuller and Robert Bloch and with zombie-ism symbolising the persistence of memory and lost loved ones, there might even be a reference to William Faulkner’s line about the past being never dead and not even past. But Jarmusch’s movie is in danger of succumbing to a zombie-ism of its own: a narcotic torpor of self-aware coolness.”