Like just about all the zombies in all the zombie movies and zombie TV shows and zombie comic books and zombie graphic novels ever released, the zombies in “The Dead Don’t Die” love to feast on the flesh of living humans.
When it comes to diet, they’re strict — well, I was going to say “humanitarians,” but that doesn’t quite work, does it?
Ah, but in addition to stumbling about in pursuit of the next people-snack, the recently dead in this movie crave whatever habits or hobbies they loved when they were alive, so they croak out “Wi-Fi!” or “Xanax!” or “Chardonnay!” or “Coffee!” or, in the case of mini-zombies, “Toys!”
This is one of the many sly if not always subtle bits of social commentary in Jim Jarmusch’s meta-zombie horror comedy, which is filled with pop culture references, one-two punches directly aimed at Trump’s America and self-aware characters who realize they’re starring in a movie.
There’s a little bit of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, quite a bit of George Romero but mostly a whole lot of Jarmusch’s own hipster style in “The Dead Don’t Die,” which is set in the seemingly deadly dull town of Centerville. (“A Real Nice Place” reads the welcome sign.)
Shortly after we hear Sturgill Simpson’s country ballad, titled (of course) “The Dead Don’t Die,” as the opening theme to the movie, the same song is playing on the car radio as police officers Cliff Robertson (!) and Ronnie Peterson, played by Bill Murray and Adam Driver, are cruising along.
Why is that song so familiar? wonders Cliff.
“It’s the theme song,” replies Ronnie, and off we go, breaking the fourth wall here and there along the way. (Later, Cliff is surprised to learn Ronnie has read the entire script of the movie, and thus knows how everything is going to turn out.)
Due to polar fracking gone bad, or something like that, the Earth has been knocked off its axis and things are getting weirder by the minute, from cell phones suddenly losing power to the sun remaining high in the sky well into the night to, oh yeah, the dead starting to rise from their graves.
It takes a while before Cliff and Ronnie and the rest of the living citizenry fully grasp the magnitude of the situation, but when they do, they keep reminding one another to “Go for the head!”
Everyone knows THAT about zombie-hunting, right?
Steve Buscemi hams it up as a crazy old racist coot farmer who wears a Make America White Again hat and is convinced Tom Waits’ poet-hermit (named Hermit Bob) is stealing his chickens.
Tilda Swinton does her Tilda Swinton thing as the new coroner in town, who has a nearly indecipherable accent and also happens to be a samurai sword master — which comes in handy when it’s time to start lopping off the heads of the corpses on her tables that annoy her by springing back to life.
Chloe Sevigny’s earnest and sweet Mindy Morrison is maybe the most normal person in town and could be a possible love interest for Ronnie, but Ronnie’s too busy commenting about the movie, telling everyone he’s got a bad feeling about what’s going to happen next, and shuddering while spitting out the word “Ghouls!” to describe the invaders.
Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat come roaring into the picture (so to speak) in a 1968 Pontiac LeMans (a “very George Romero” car, notes one of the locals). These sexy rebel troublemakers ask the local gas station/mini-mart operator, Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), if the one motel in town is any good and he says yeah, it’s kinda cool in an old-school way.
“Like an old-school horror way, like with ‘Psycho’ and the separate bungalows?” says one of the cool cats.
“Uh, the Bates Motel in ‘Psycho’ was NOT separated into ‘little bungalows,’ ” says Bobby with disdain.
Come on hipsters! If you’re going to be in this movie, you best know your pop culture references.
“The Dead Don’t Die” is delivered in one long, deadpan note. Some of the sight gags and quips are gold; others are just filler, but still kind of interesting in a wacky sort of way.
If drive-in theaters were still a big thing, this would have been a great double-feature companion piece to “Night of the Living Dead.”