Centerville is just what it sounds like; an average small town. When two of its citizens are found dead and half eaten, it can only be one thing. Some sort of animal. Or several. Or maybe, ZOMBIES!!!
Boy did I want to give this movie a raving review. So much of it is exactly the kind of film I love; smart takes on the genre, great actors, good laughs, and an excellent theme. Unfortunately, his film has a couple of huge faux pas when it comes to filmmaking that I just can’t get past in order to give a truly ringing recommendation.
One of my favorite parts of this film is the way that, even though it doesn’t start out real preachy, anyone with any film watching experience can tell what the “message” of the film is. It trades on deep seeded emotional ruts which we all have. Fear of the future, turning a blind eye to crises, and confusion over what we should do during a crisis all play heavily throughout the film. Some will imprint Global Climate Change onto the zombie crisis. Others an immigration problem. Still others may see it as a metaphor for ongoing armed conflict.
Whatever we as individuals imagine is the great devastation to come, this film is addressing us and how we handle that information in relation to our fellow human beings. It is critical of some of the things we do to distract ourselves from uncertain futures but it doesn’t exactly look kindly on those who are all doom and gloom let’s run off into the woods and prep for the apocalypse types either.
There is a certain fatalism in this movie that simply accepts that bad things happen no matter how hard we try to avoid them or pretend they won’t. We just have to give it our best.
The cast of “The Dead Don’t Die” is a dream. None of them are doing their best work in this film, after all this isn’t Oscar bait, but they are all solid, funny, and relatable. They hardly seem to be acting at times which is a feeling that is heightened when some of the humor and plot turn meta. I personally enjoyed that turn but I can easily see where it might turn some off.
My main complaint in regard to the film really revolves around its treatment and expectations of the audience. It flabbergasts me how a director as talented as Jim Jarmusch (“Patterson”) can do so many things to make an audience feel like they are being looked down on. Throughout the film I got the feeling that he felt, or someone else in the production felt that anyone seeing this movie would be more brain dead than the zombies therin.
On the one hand, this film is a treasure trove of easter eggs for the classic horror fanatic. In the background are posters for classics like “The Thing” and much of the way certain zombie scenes are filmed are obvious homages to classic zombie flicks. Yet, there is this feeling that Jarmusch is afraid we won’t get what he is doing. He has to have characters hang a lantern on some references to “Nosferatu” and Romero with such cringe dialogue as “you got really great taste in films.”
The mac daddy of treating your audience like imbeciles comes toward the end of the movie. There is a hermit character played by Tom Waits (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) who is mostly an observer the whole film. He soliloquies a couple of times and every time feels like the director decided the audience was getting lost and needed help. The end is the worst example as he waxes on about the meaning of the film as the audience wonders if the credits are about to start rolling. Literally the last thing that happens in the film is the worst part of it. It’s just this long monologue spoken to know one like it’s a Shakespearean Tragedy that is happening on screen.
Does he not trust the audience to gean a message from the film or is he too controlling of what that message might end up being? I don’t know but it sure leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
That’s part of the joke I guess. After all Adam Driver (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) is constantly telling Bill Murray (“Isle of Dogs”) and Chloe Sevigny (“Lean on Pete”) that this all ends badly. I think when it does, we are all supposed to laugh. Warning the audience that the ending is going to be terrible doesn’t make it funny. It doesn’t make it smart. It just means that you knew it was bad and you left it that way.
Perhaps the most telling sign that the movie lost me somewhere along the way is the runtime. An hour and forty-four minutes should be a nice quick action comedy fun ride but I was seriously checking the time halfway through wondering when the movie would be over. It just crawled.
It’s a real shame because the movie had a lot going for it. It could have been a solid middle tier movie for me but in the end I can’t even decide if I liked it or not. I don’t think I did.
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