REVIEW

Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die is a fine addition to the zombie canon

(L to R) Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Adam Driver in The Dead Don't Die. Picture: Supplied
(L to R) Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Adam Driver in The Dead Don't Die. Picture: Supplied

The Dead Don't Die

Four stars

Streaming services stepped into the ring against cinema a handful of years ago and appeared a serious contender for its mass-entertainment crown. But how many times - like me - have you sat on your couch and blipped your way through thousands of titles, unable to decide, unable to move, zombie-like re-programming your brain's ability to focus.

The Dead Don't Die is a zombie film, but as it comes from the hands of American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, it is less interested in pursuing the tropes of the genre, and more in commenting on us as a society.

His zombies emerge from the grave possibly as boring and single-focused on inane pursuits as they were when they entered it.

One of the film's many exciting cameos features Iggy Popp emerging from the soil in pursuit of coffee.

In small-town Centerville USA, police chief Cliff (Bill Murray) and Deputy Ronnie (Adam Driver) are dealing with a grievance between the local hermit (Tom Waits) and farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi).

On Main Street, mechanic Hank (Danny Glover) is grabbing breakfast while the local ladies gossip about the strange new owner of the funeral parlour (Tilda Swinton).

Jarmusch lets us warm to his coterie of quirky characters slowly, but as they discuss evidence of strange animal behaviour and rumours of polar franking having unbalanced the planet, we come to realise, as Driver's character predicts, 'This is going to end badly.'

Jim Jarmusch provided the soundtrack to my youth. I mean this quite literally, as I worked at a small arthouse cinema and we played the soundtrack albums to his Elvis-inspired Mystery Train and Parisian accordion-accompanied dirge Night on Earth in our cinemas between films for a decade.

I close my eyes and I can still bring up any scene from those for a handful of his other films, seen only once decades ago, as it took the likes of Wes Anderson and few others to surpass the way he could construct a frame.

With Blue Velvet cinematographer Frederick Elmes behind the camera, they construct a faded and familiar small town world that nods at dozens of cinema classics, while Jarmusch's band SQRL contribute a musical soundscape that washes over you like the tide coming in and out. Country singer Sturgill Simpson contributes the film's title song, a romantic country ballad about the undead, which plays on radios throughout the film and gives the first indication that Jarmusch is playing with his audience.

'Why is that song so familiar?' asks Murray.

'It's the theme song,' replies Driver.

Not many multiplex audiences are comfortable in that space - breaking the fourth wall - but it feels part of the filmmaker's greater social commentary, with the media being a tool for manipulation. In the world of his film, the gullible populace are being manipulated by the government and big businesses whose polar fracking have altered the Earth's polar axis through fracking, causing the waves of undead.

Jarmusch made one of the finest vampire films since Nosferatu with his 2013 Only Lovers Left Alive, and despite publicly saying he loathes zombie films, he has made a fine contribution to a genre that doesn't seem to be losing any pace. His zombification of our daily inane pursuits ('WiFi!' Croaks one zombie) are dry comedy. Like Orson Welles' family of seasoned players, he has built around him across his career a loyal cast of friends - Tom Waites, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi - to which he adds a new generation - Selena Gomez, Driver, Chloe Sevigny - and I look forward to seeing them in his future, non-genre work.

Dozens of times over the past years I've been excited by big names making the jump to one of the big streaming services with their open cheque book production approach. An unfortunately high number of those experiences have felt like "content production" as opposed to filmmaking.

Jim Jarmusch is a genuinely original filmmaker and his experimentation with genre filmmaking adds fresh ideas to expected ones, and gives the film lover moments of pure joy.

This story Worthy addition to thriving genre first appeared on The Canberra Times.