You hardly ever find a film where its sole purpose is to poke fun at the genre, and yet, the film actually turns out better than most in the actual genre. Take Scary Movie, a film meant to poke fun at the horror genre, but it’s not written well-enough to actually be great on its own. The Princess Bride, however, is one that exemplifies that type of film perfectly, as it was made to slightly poke fun at the romantic film genre but turned out to be one of the greatest films and books of all time.
Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die is nothing short of a diamond in a sea of failed zombie-flicks. Its sole purpose is to make fun of zombie horror films but turns out to arguably be one of the best films in the entire zombie horror genre.
In order to create a film that pokes fun at a genre but is still successful, it’s imperative the film is self-aware and knows exactly what it is from the first scene. A campy, meta, dark comedy, The Dead Don’t Die says from the beginning that things are going to end badly and doesn’t try to turn the film into something other than what it truly is. There is no heroic ending and no dramatic turn of events. The film explicitly states what will happen and follows through — making it all the more appealing.
It’s not often that a film has an absolutely rock star cast with no weak links, but this film has exactly that. Casted by Ellen Lewis, the film is absolutely loaded with great actors and actresses, including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones and Tom Waits. In keeping with the film’s satirical theme, there are also a lot of tongue-in-cheek names. Swinton’s character is known as Zelda Winston, and Rosie Perez is Posie Juarez.
Though there are no weak links, by far the two strongest portrayals are Murray and Driver. The duo is absolutely dynamic as Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) and officer Ronnie Peterson (Driver). Their banter and various remarks throughout the film are so dry and deadpan that you can’t help but laugh out loud.
Though Murray and Driver lead the film, Swinton steals the show. She’s nothing short of phenomenal with her Scottish dialect, awkward demeanor and fascination with samurai swords, which leads to many zombie-killings. One of the running Hollywood conspiracies jokes is that Swinton is actually an alien, with many media outlets writing explanations behind why the actress possesses alien-like qualities. This conspiracy is directly addressed in the film, adding to its self-awareness and throwing in the joke for those who know Swinton’s alien rumors.
Similarly, the film is completely meta, with the actors constantly bantering about the film’s theme song, “The Dead Don’t Die” by Sturgill Simpson, as well as even mentioning Jarmusch by name. Its relaxed, almost carefree sensibility only adds to the film’s self-aware satire.
The camp feeling is achieved through phenomenal camerawork and the setting. Usually when films showcase their setting in a series of scenic shots with music playing in the background, it can become boring. But in this case, it only adds to the film.
Jarmusch uses pacing to keep the audience engaged and laughing through every scene, and it’s done really well. There are several running gags throughout the film that aren’t overdone but evenly spaced throughout to give the audience a good laugh, and from the minute the film begins, it grabs the audience’s attention and doesn’t let it go for a second.
Despite the film being above-average, there are some loose ends after the credits. With the entire film following individual groups of characters, it seems obvious for the film to tie up those storylines, but it doesn’t. With everyone’s storylines wrapped up but three central characters, it leaves the audience wanting just one more resolution and wondering if the characters were in the few who made it out alive.
Nonetheless, The Dead Don’t Die is one of the most hilarious, clever and successful satirical films released in a long time. Between the perfect setting, meta-approach and iconic cast, the film is an absolute must-see and is sure to be a cult classic.