Decapitate. It’s the only way to kill ‘em.
Well, my fellow zombie killing movie aficionados, let’s delve into The Dead Don’t Die, a new film opening June 14th, directed by Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Coffee and Cigarettes). First, the stats, which boast an impressive array of talent, including my new love and relative newcomer to Hollywood, Adam Driver. He’s supported and most likely enhanced by the always funny Bill Murray. Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, RZA, Tom Waits and Tilda Swinton provide a whole host unto thee of celebrity cameos that should carry a movie like this through the predictably draggy parts of attempts at plot development.
Plot development? The best zombie movies ignore it entirely. Maybe we get a touch of why the virus escaped the secret facility, or a budding romance that defies the undead through great sacrifice, but mostly, it’s the living vs. the living dead and the gruesome struggle for survival if you’re lucky enough to be a part of the former. The formula for all the great zombie movies of the past like 28 Days Later and Dawn of The Dead followed a simple orbit: Zombies! Eek! Close calls, glad we made it outta there! Get better at fighting, learn to destroy the central nervous system of the zombies, develop a plan for survival, a cool secondary character gets eaten alive but makes a final devastating sacrifice before his or her neck is ripped out and a few main stragglers make it to the promised land. Cue the creepy violin and credits.
What makes for a great zombie movie, then? It’s not plot, character development or any of the themes we look for in other works of the cinema, especially great horror films. No. It’s a fantastic soundtrack and the acting ability in the genre of zombie that makes us appreciate the characters hacking and shooting their way through a horde of the undead. To prove my point, I would ask that you recall everything you can about Zombieland, a 2009 zombie romp that featured Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson at the top of their games. What do you remember? The twinkies, right? What’s important here is those two actors created a back and forth dialogue that translated into such goodness, such chemistry, that a movie with a stupid plot and mostly horizontal trajectory was heralded as one of the better films of that year. Need another? How about Johnny Cash singing “When The Man Comes Around” and Ving Rhames and Ty Burrell in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead? My personal favorite zombie movie of all time is a bunch of people trying to not die in a mall in Milwaukee to a kickass soundtrack. End of plot. Dawn of The Dead was great simply because the actors and the music made it so. The characters were so believable and reachable, the actual story of the movie is largely forgettable but we don’t care.
Circling back to our feature film, The Dead Don’t Die, we find some incredible synergy with music and talent. The director, Jim Jarmusch, is no slouch when it comes to recognizing music, as he directed short videos about Tom Waits, The Raconteurs, and The Talking Heads. He is also adept at telling stories with no plot, which sounds counter-intuitive, but he helmed Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai, which blew me away with its simplicity and dependence on Forest Whitaker to drive the message home. Mr. Jarmusch provides plenty of evidence that he knows the formula for zombie film canonization, and I am expecting him to ratchet his talent into high gear as he coaches Adam Driver and Bill Murray towards zombie killing greatness.
I am excited for this one. The apparent grind-house touches and promise of a righteous soundtrack, coupled with Adam Driver’s well-honed ability to deliver one liners with frightening and hilarious accuracy have all the markings of a classic, don’t miss zombie slaying fiasco of blood, gore and killingly funny dialogue.
The Dead Don’t Die, from Animal Kingdom Studios and Film i Vast, is slated for release in theaters on June 14th. It’s written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.