Wait — Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, & Adam Driver Did a Zombie Movie?

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die features a star-studded cast and his signature surreal style.
  • The film’s slow pace emphasizes the oblivious lack of urgency in the face of an apocalypse.
  • The movie includes random and great cameos, breaks the fourth wall, and has a bizarre ending.


Jim Jarmusch can take the most generic tropes of film and put his own magically unique twist on them. His 2019 movie The Dead Don’t Die is a bit of an outlier. Jarmusch is widely regarded as the king of independent film, so getting a star-studded ensemble that includes A-listers like Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, with cameos by Austin Butler, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Carol Kane, and Danny Glover makes this a very different project for the director. That’s not to say he hasn’t worked with big stars before because he has worked with plenty — just not on one project.

The eclectic and eccentric Jarmusch has never been driven by making Hollywood blockbusters or being a media darling. He has made his way through the film industry on his own terms, and The Dead Don’t Die may have a lot of big names attached to it, but it still has the almost undefinable qualities that he is famous for. And he goes completely meta in this wonderfully reserved film about crass consumerism and society’s ambivalence and lack of appreciation for “the details” of our unique world. And he sums it up in the final line of the film.

The Dead Don’t Die

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.

Release Date
June 14, 2019

Director
Jim Jarmusch

Runtime
104 minutes


Jim Jarmusch Is a Well-Known Commodity in Film Circles

We imagine that when a Jim Jarmusch script about zombies comes across the desk of any actor, they will want to take a read-through at the very least. He garners respect from performers big and small because of his inimitable vision and sometimes bizarre storytelling style. So how does Jarmusch put his own spin on the oft-used trope of the undead? It starts with getting the perfect players for his roles and letting them know that the tone of his zombie film is going to be markedly different from what you may have seen from Sam Raimi, Danny Boyle, Zack Snyder, or even the godfather of the genre, George A. Romero. There was undoubtedly a sit-down around the script-read table where the filmmaker described what he was thinking for The Dead Don’t Die. He had to have told all of them, particularly his leads, Murray and Driver, that he wanted to make an apocalyptic film, but there was no need to rush the process. And by that we mean he really wanted to slow everything down in the movie. Not just the zombies that move at a glacial pace, but the attitudes and responses of the characters. “Lack of urgency” or “the polar opposite of 28 Days Later and World War Z” had to have been said in that table reading, and the finished product has his surreal signature all over it.

How ‘The Dead Don’t Die’s Pace Contributes to Its Storytelling

Jim Jarmusch sets the tone and pace for The Dead Don’t Die with the film’s opening credit sequence. He sets it to the laid-back country-styling motif of Sturgill Simpson singing the titular theme song. The director lets the audience know that his zombie flick is going to be drawn out and commented upon. Bill Murray plays Chief Cliff Robertson and Adam Driver plays his deputy Officer Ronald Paterson (yes, just like his role in another odd Jim Jarmusch movie, Paterson). Together, these characters make up the sluggish and slow-to-respond police force of the town of Littleton.

Jarmusch wants the viewer to clearly understand that there is an almost oblivious lack of urgency by our inexorably tired law enforcement leads. As a series of strange things begin to happen when the earth falls off its axis, our cops are deliberately painted as too preoccupied and idiosyncratically disconnected from the apocalyptic events unfolding around them. It’s as if Jarmusch is commenting on man’s lack of appreciation for its existence and the astonishing fact that we’re all here. So when the earth starts rotating in reverse and the dead start to crawl from their graves, Cliff and Ronald are less emphatic and more pragmatic and analytical. Upon learning that the end of days is approaching, Officer Ronald can muster little more than a gaze out the window as he very soberly says, “This is all going to end badly.”

‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Features Great Cameos by Random Stars

Selena Gomez standing outside next to a car, looking ahead in The Dead Don't Die
Image via Focus Features

As Cliff and Ronald slowly get up to speed with the fact that there is a pressing problem in Centerville and the dead are reanimating, Jarmusch calls in some favors from a slew of recognizable and random performers to show up for just a scene or two. Austin Butler (looking like a young Elvis Presley) and Selena Gomez play Jake and Zoe. They are just a couple of motorists passing through town complaining about their bad cell phone connections while quietly listening to our old friend Sturgill Simpson over the radio once again singing the theme song. They stop off at Bobby’s Convenience and Comic Book Store to get some gas where they exchange a few pleasantries with Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) before making their way to a nearby motel.

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The five-minute sequence does nothing to advance the plot or develop any of the characters. It’s like Jarmusch called Butler and Gomez up and asked them to show up for an hour-long shoot as a favor. Even the young A-listers in Hollywood know what it means to be in a Jim Jarmusch outlier movie when the rare opportunity presents itself. Carol Kane also appears as the town-drunk “Chardonnay” Mallory O’Brien, whose reanimation sequence in the jailhouse is probably the best scene in the film.

Adam Driver and Bill Murray as cops standing in the woods in The Dead Don't Die
Image via Focus Features

After a barrage of deaths that Cliff and Ronald finally determine wasn’t caused by “several wild animals,” they load up their shotguns and take action against the growing zombie horde, but by the time they decide to act, their fates are already determined. One of the most notable aspects of The Dead Don’t Die is when Jarmusch gets meta with the audience and breaks the fourth wall and has his characters comment on having read the script and mentions “Jim” Jarmusch by name. Driver tells Murray that he’s known how badly the movie would end by reading a script that Jim gave him. Murray then complains that he never saw a full script and curses the director for not sending him a final draft. This is a complete anomaly for most filmmakers, but especially Jarmusch, who has always played it close to the vest.

‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Has a Fittingly Bizarre Ending

Jim Jarmusch takes one last jab at climate change deniers and blatant materialism before sending the lawmen out to a certain death. But not before the arrival of a spaceship that is there to retrieve the mercurial katana-wielding Scot, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who has apparently been walking among the humans for some time. Leave it to Jim Jarmusch to do a little bit of screwy genre mixing and matching to change things up even more. By the time the movie’s final sequence rolls around, the indie king has made his point, and all that is left is for Cliff and Ronald to go out in a blaze of undead glory. As they stave off as many of the town’s zombie herd as possible, a voice narrates the final moments to punctuate the director’s message by saying, “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust…what a f***** up world!”

The Dead Don’t Die is available to stream on Cinemax in the U.S.

Watch on Cinemax



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