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'The Dead Don't Die': Affectionate Zombie Spoof From 'Ultimate Hipster Filmmaker' Jim Jarmusch

Focus Features
Danny Glover, Bill Murray, and Adam Driver in "The Dead Don't Die." (2019)

The zombie movie phenomenon and obsession has been part of film culture as early as 1932. But it was George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead that set the stage for our culture’s hunger for more.

The latest film in the zombie canon is from writer and director Jim Jarmusch — The Dead Don’t Die. Taking place in the small town of Centerville, odd things start to happen. Watches stop. The sun doesn't rise or set at the right time. And, most notably, zombies walk the streets.

The film stars Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and a special ghoul appearance from Iggy Pop (and more).

The Dead Don’t Die is an affectionate spoof of what people love about zombie movies. But it's also a social commentary of sorts, according to our film contributor Dave Luhrssen.

"The bigger backdrop of the film is a commentary on the unfolding environmental catastrophe of the planet [with the film's so-called 'polar fracking']," he says. "The world is slipping away and nobody, even the most responsible people, have any idea of what to do about it and half the time they're not even aware of how bad things are getting."

Luhrssen notes that the film's sense of harmless ambivalence falls in line with Jarmusch's "profound sense of irony" about things while also having an easy-going sense of humor.

[Jarmusch] is the ultimate hipster filmmaker," says Luhrssen. "From the beginning of his career, he’s packed his films with things that people of certain backgrounds or certain interests would get, but the storyline makes sense entirely without any of that.”

While the film is more comedy than horror, Luhrssen admits that "the movie wears its points, its messages a little bit too obviously for my taste."

He also says that it's very hard for any filmmaker to bring the zombie genre back to life. "I find zombies to be kind of inherently dull, and that's the challenge of making a zombie movie because they don't do a whole lot," notes Luhrssen.

But if you like zombie movies, then you'll certainly appreciate The Dead Don't Die, says Luhrssen.

"I think that fans of zombie movies will appreciate it. It does what zombie movies do. I think pop culture fans will find all kinds of cool things to reference in there, so yeah, it's a recommendation. Not my favorite Jarmusch movie of all time, but I enjoyed it."

David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, co-founder of the Milwaukee International Film Festival and co-author of A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. He is the winner of the Pace Setter Award for contributions to Milwaukee's film community from the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. David Luhrssen has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and Milwaukee Area Technical College.