The Dead Don’t Die is on Netflix
Jim Jarmusch is one of those authors who work little, slowly and only if they are 100% convinced of what they do: he directed only 13 films in 42 years of career and each time its new release is an event (often accompanied by avalanche prizes). This is why it hurts particularly to note that The dead don’t die is perhaps a unique case in his filmography: a film so self-satisfied and self-referential that it loses all bite, and turns into little more than a divertissement among friends, inspired in part by Romero and in part by the wave of post-horror meta-horror.Scream playing with the fourth wall like a cat with its prey, until it is beaten and bleeding in a corner.
Cliff Robertson, Ronnie Peterson and Mindy Morrison (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny) are the three law guardians of the small town of Centerville, which already from the name presents itself as an ironic and postmodern place. Centerville is exactly what it promises: a rural town in the middle of nowhere in the United States, so indefinite it could be found anywhere, whose local motto, proudly displayed at the town’s entrance along with the sign indicating the total population at 738 individuals, it is “a real nice place”. We have seen hundreds if not thousands of Centervilles in more than a century of American cinema: for Jarmusch this becomes a shortcut, which saves him from having to characterize the place and its inhabitants in too much detail.
What’s the point of spending time and effort building a sense of place around Centerville when you just grab Steve Buscemi and have him play the racist farmer in the hat “Make America White Again”, and immediately have him run into a Danny Glover who’s never been this old for this bullshit? In Centerville there is the diner, the petrol station with handwritten signs, the country bum who occasionally steals chickens (Tom Waits) … just the first scene that takes us around the country in Cliff’s car and Ronnie to understand where we are and what kind of people we will face: old racists and traditionalists against young people with aspirations to escape from the claustrophobia of the countryside, in a generational clash that also involves poor Selena Gomez in one of the most thankless roles of her already not amazing film career.
On this plot familiar to anyone who has seen half an American film in his life, Jim Jarmusch builds his oddities, which yes, they also include zombies as promised by the title (and as confirmed by the thousands of references to Romero’s films scattered around. the film), but they are not limited to that. In an attempt to provide an explanation for the existence of the living dead that is different from the usual “lethal virus escaped from a laboratory”, Jarmusch goes without any shame into the territories of camp and even the disaster movie of emmerichiana memory, with a shovel of sociopolitical critique as subtle and allusive as an oak in the face.
Fracking in the polar regions caused the Earth’s axis to shift, and this in turn led the animals to go crazy like in a seventies eco-horror, time to stop flowing and, above all, to stop dying. the dead. Which instead wake up in full rot and, like the zombies of Survival of the Dead or those of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Summer of the Living Dead, walk around and try to repeat the same actions they did when they were alive. Being movie zombies they are also ferocious, aggressive and capable of gutting you and turning you into zombies – but Jarmusch is more interested in another question, a classic of the undead movies: how do you react when your country is invaded by zombies that are your baker, your fruit seller, your neighbors?
It is what we could define an ethical approach to zombies, the one that pushes the characters in the film not to slaughter them indiscriminately but to treat them as loved ones; what makes you look for solutions to the plague other than “let’s set everything on fire”. Unfortunately, The dead don’t die he takes this potentially provocative idea and humiliates it, transforming it (like almost everything else in the film, in fact) into a simple gag machine. Jarmusch has almost always used irony in his films, even the gray and bitter ones (Down by Law, Broken Flowers). Here, however, he does not use it as a weapon, but prefers to indulge in the easy parody – easy and even a little superb, because it is impossible not to notice a minimum of stench under the nose in The dead don’t dieas if Jarmusch didn’t want to get his hands too dirty with horror and used it only as a tool to achieve his personal goals.
The problem is that it is difficult to understand what those goals are, beyond hoping to get us a smile with the recurring gag of Adam Driver who knows he is living in a movie, and therefore makes constant references to the things he has read in the film. script (and few things kill narrative tension as much as a character who already knows how things will turn out). All the possible talk about killing a person you know just because she became a zombie is drowned out by the umpteenth joke, or by the umpteenth nasty character coming to a predictably horrible end (The dead don’t die it also seems like a way for Jarmusch to get some pebbles off his shoes against anyone who doesn’t think like him). There is no real horror, also because there is no way to really become attached to characters who are defined exclusively by their craft and by the archetypes of other similar characters that came before them.
The best summary of what’s wrong with it The dead don’t die it is probably the character of Tilda Swinton, a completely free tarantinata that takes the film in unexpected directions and which is one of those ideas that on paper seem beautiful, but in practice they are just thrown away. Here, the perfect definition for the whole film is this: “thrown there”. Like this piece ending.