Jim Jarmusch’s star-studded apocalyptic comedy is a chaotic commentary on the state of America
“This isn’t going to end well” is the running catchphrase of Adam Driver’s cop in The Dead Don’t Die, Jim Jarmusch’s anti-capitalist caper masked as a apocalpytic zombie comedy.
It’s the second time that Driver and Jarmusch have collaborated since 2016’s Paterson, and it’s not wasted on the director that the onscreen son to Han “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” Solo has become considerably more mainstream since their last venture (note: this is not the only Star Wars reference that makes it into the movie).
Set in Centerville (a cosy cross-section of rural America with “A real nice place” as its slogan), Driver plays Ronnie, a smart car-peddling officer who, through thick-rimmed glasses, watches his town descend into a feasting ground for the undead, a heavy-handed metaphor for a worldwide crisis.
It’s undoubtedly Jarmusch’s most politically charged film to date, with the cause of this unholy chaos pinned to polar fracking – a symptom of global consumption endorsed by the US government and corporations while criticised by liberal naysayers, namely a trio of juveniles, a comic store conspiracist and Tom Waits’ off-grid vagabond Hermit Bob.
The storyline is as subtle as a blow to the head – of which there are many throughout the film – but Jarmusch has the floor and a band of A-list buddies at his disposal, and utilises both to lay bare his thoughts on the current state of his home nation. He’s not in the mood to muddle messages.
“Jarmusch has the floor and a band of A-list buddies at his disposal, and utilises both to lay bare his thoughts on the current state of his home nation”
Selena Gomez fronts a group of horrifically attractive Cleveland hipsters who live for analogue and energy drinks, Steve Buscemi plays a redneck farmer with a Make America White Again cap and an extensive range of firearms, while zombified Iggy Pop and filmmaker and Jarmusch’s longterm partner Sara Driver wash down the remains of their victims with jet black coffee.
Skirting around the film’s political current, Tilda Swinton’s Scottish samurai still leaves a lasting impression as an ethereal badass with little patience for consumerism. “I can assure you that tartan doesn’t belong to you” she says to an undead millennial in a checked skirt before slicing her head off.
Amidst his political pointedness, Jarmusch remains true to his playful tendencies, which peak with Driver speeding onto a grisly crime scene in the aforementioned smart car, knees all but tucked under his chin.
It’s in the scenes involving the three juveniles however that the filmmaker loses his cool, pausing his meta punchlines and deadpan decapitations to settle on the faces of three kids who didn’t ask for any of this, yet will probably have to live with their elders’ actions for the rest of their existence.
As warnings of right-wing mania and climate change seep into mainstream Hollywood – from Seth Rogen’s climate change satire Long Shot to Captain Marvel’s anti-separation subtext – The Dead Don’t Die is frighteningly on trend, it just looks a lot cooler when getting its point across.