The Dead Don’t Die (2019) Cannes 2019 ****

May 15th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray | 103′ US Fantasy Horror

The peaceful town of Centreville finds itself up against it when the (un) dead start rising from their graves in Jim Jarmusch’s first zombie escapade.

THE DEAD DON’T DIE is the first festival opener to also vie for the Palme d’Or in the main competition this year at Cannes. Jarmusch has won all sorts of awards in previous editions – The Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (Broken Flowers); Best Artistic Contribution (Mystery Train); The Golden Camera (Stranger than Paradise); and Coffee and Cigarettes III was awarded the Best Short film in 1993 , but he’s never actually taken home the top prize. And it’s possible he will with this flip but fun affair with its slim but subtle undercurrents.

Most of the starry cast are ripped apart and end up thoroughly the worst for wear by the time we get Sturgill Simpson’s catchy title tune on the brain for the journey home. But this audience pleaser will certainly go down in history with the best of them – but my money’s still on Shaun of the Dead for sheer deadpan weirdness of the cult classic kind.

The police are the first to notice untoward goings on. Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are alerted to local power cuts and watches going awry in sleepy Centreville. And Jarmusch brings the same deadpan humour to bear as did Edgar Wright, the dead coming alive in the eerie torpor that many claim is due to climate change.

The town’s cop trio is made up by token female Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), and Danny Glover’s Hank Thompson is the token black resident who makes it possible for Buscemi’s Farmer Miller to add the requisite element of racial abuse. Other denizens include Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who gets to flex her Scottish credentials with a hefty samurai sword. The younger generation are there in the shape of Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat who roam around their numbers gradually multiplying as the story staggers on. Then there’s a classic village loner (Tom Waits) who seems to go under the zombies’ radar, perhaps because he’s so like them.

But a wry nonchalant bonhomie permeates this dozy undead drama and maybe Jarmusch is alluding here to the dumbed-down society we live in nowadays – their unaware, don’t care attitude is the most darkly worrying aspect. Crafty old Jarmusch is using his zombie outing as a wrapper to satirise all our current ills. Even the authorities seem brain dead with Tilda giving the only sparky thrill to the piece as the slightly unhinged oddball. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 14-25 May 2019 | IN COMPETITION

Copyright © 2022 Filmuforia