WARNING: Spoilers for The Dead Don't Die.
Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die breaks the fourth wall on several occasions because it isn't really a zombie movie. On the surface, The Dead Don't Die has all the necessary bells and whistles with which any classic zombie film should be equipped - down to the social, environmental, and political allegories - but this film goes one step further to shake up the genre so much that it's hardly really a zombie movie at all.
In The Dead Don't Die, the quiet town of Centerville is faced with a supernatural crisis when the dead start rising from their graves. Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Officers Ronnie Peterson and Mindy Morrison, played by Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny, respectively, do their best to not only patrol the town, but determine its best strategy for survival. Along the way, they cross paths with Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), the new funeral director Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), and a crew of Cleveland hipsters (Selena Gomez, Austin Butler, and Luke Sabbat) who happen to be passing through. However, in the early stages of the zombie apocalypse, The Dead Don't Die is quick to remind audiences on several occasions that this isn't a run of the mill horror movie when several characters casually and repeatedly break the fourth wall.
The moment Driver's character tells Murray's Chief Robertson that the song they're listening to on the radio is the theme song for the movie they're in, the film's reality is broken. Later in The Dead Don't Die, they go so far as to refer back to Jarmusch's script, which Driver credits when insisting "This isn't going to end well." However, instead of breaking the fourth wall as a gag, The Dead Don't Die breaks the fourth wall to prove a point. The movie wants to repeat the fact that the world has problems - without the faintest hint of subtlety - and it becomes clear enough that where someone like George A. Romero made zombie films as a commentary on the world at large, Jim Jarmusch treats the zombie angle as a red herring for the bigger picture.
In The Dead Don't Die, it's no secret that the biggest concerns aren't only the zombies, but fracking and racism and a whole plethora of topics to which Jarmusch believes his audience should pay attention. Sure, the zombie angle helps in that Jarmusch is also addressing the fact that people might seem too braindead at times to bother paying attention to things that really matter, but the zombies are mostly superfluous in the end. They're a marketing tool to get butts into seats; some clever misdirection disguising a roughly two-hour TED Talk as a horror film.
By the end of The Dead Don't Die, the relevancy of the film's central characters has already expired. As Driver and Murray casually chat about the script for the movie in which they're starring as a horde of zombies surround their police cruiser, it's more than clear that the point of the film isn't to scare audiences with zombies, but with humans. The Dead Don't Die is a cautionary tale dressed in monster makeup, and the zombie subgenre is more of a diversion than a hook, something to throw off the scent of the film's real meaning. And if it takes a monster movie to get people's attention - whether they agree with the message or not - then Jarmusch's clever experiment in devil-may-care quasi-false marketing was a success.
- The Dead Don't Die (2019) release date: Jun 14, 2019