With Pet Sematary bringing dead pets (and kids) back to life and Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson returning to the world of Zombieland with the belated sequel Double Tap this year, fans of the swarming undead will have plenty to munch on this year.
But there’s one star-studded zombie film that movie buffs are excited about above all, and that’s Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die. It’ll combine scares and laughs, wrapped up in the director’s signature muted and minimalist filmmaking stuff. It’s very intriguing stuff. So, here are 10 Things We Know So Far About The Dead Don’t Die.
During the press tour for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, when Bill Murray first announced he’d be appearing in a zombie film directed by Jim Jarmusch, most interviewers’ first question was: “Are you playing a zombie?” He played himself in the zom-com Zombieland a decade ago, pretending to be a zombie as a prank, and got shot by Jesse Eisenberg after he mistook him for an actual flesh-eater.
Murray said, “It’s a zombie movie. Jim Jarmusch has written a zombie script that’s so hilarious and it has a cast of great actors: Rosie Perez, Daniel Craig. It’s titled The Dead Don’t Die, and it shoots over the summer. But no, I will not play a zombie.”
Like a lot of zombie movies, The Dead Don’t Die will be set in a small town that is suddenly swarmed with the undead. But as with all of Jim Jarmusch’s work, the movie likely won’t follow a conventional narrative structure or abide by the usual rules of filmmaking.
This will follow the setup of a traditional zombie movie in a way we’ve never seen a zombie movie follow it before. The plot of this one will specifically focus on a trio of cops and an unusual morgue expert who might have all the answers as they face the zombie uprising without a clue.
Everyone who makes a zombie movie has to decide what kind of zombies their zombies are going to be. Do they just dawdle around or can they sprint like in Resident Evil or World War Z? Do they want to eat brains or simply bite people and infect them? Can they speak – not in full sentences, but just droning, “Braaains!” – or do they just growl?
Jim Jarmusch has decided to take a comedic route with the zombies established in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. That is to say, the zombies continue to mindlessly do what they did when they were alive (i.e. go to the mall and contribute to the U.S. economy like good corporate consumers). We see this in the trailer with Carol Kane’s chardonnay-swilling zombie.
Based on the recently released trailer, Jim Jarmusch’s reference points for The Dead Don’t Die seem pretty clear – Wes Anderson’s filmography, as well as early days Coen brothers movies circa Raising Arizona, replete with wacky set pieces and dark humor. Another takeaway from the trailer is a sly self-awareness in the vein of Scream or, to use a zombie movie reference, Zombieland.
It’s not one of those movies that know they’re movies, but it will make reference to itself in subtle ways. For example, the characters are familiar with zombie fiction. It’s not yet another zombie movie set in a world where zombie stories have never been told.
The best zombie comedies contain references and homages to other zombie movies. The greatest example of this is Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, which is both a perfectly crafted horror comedy and a series of Easter eggs for diehard film buffs.
It looks as though Jim Jarmusch will be bringing the same style to The Dead Don’t Die. In the trailer, we see a vintage Pontiac Tempest, which is the same car that Barbara and her brother drive to the cemetery in the opening of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the groundbreaking first modern zombie movie.
While this looks to be Jim Jarmusch’s silliest movie yet, he has made comedies before, and their comedic style has always been deadpan – playing it straight to wring laughs out of absurd dialogue.
That’s probably what’ll make The Dead Don’t Die his most popular film yet. If you bring a deadpan style to a movie about a guy whose Hungarian cousin comes to visit, it won’t turn out particularly silly – it’ll just bring a sly comic wit to a real-life situation. But if you apply that same deadpan tone to a zombie movie, it’ll result in a film that is deliciously wacky, like Airplane! with zombies.
Jim Jarmusch has recruited a fantastic cast for his zombie movie, featuring A-list actors, forgotten screen legends, familiar faces from the small screen, and musicians making the leap to acting. Adam Driver, Bill Murray, and Chloë Sevigny play the trio of police officers at the center of the story.
But the cast also includes Selena Gomez, Tilda Swinton (playing a mysterious Scottish character), Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, and Danny Glover. Iconic “Lust for Life” singer Iggy Pop will reportedly appear as a zombie – and probably an important one, since he’s been given pretty high billing on the poster. Even RZA is scheduled to appear.
At least one actor from the cast of The Dead Don’t Die has appeared in every movie Jim Jarmusch has ever made. Sara Driver was in his first two films, Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise. Tom Waits was in Down by Law. Steve Buscemi was in Mystery Train. Rosie Perez was in Night on Earth. Iggy Pop appeared in the Johnny Depp-starring western Dead Man. RZA appeared in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Chloë Sevigny all starred in Broken Flowers. Murray and Swinton reteamed with the director for The Limits of Control, and then Swinton reteamed with him yet again for Only Lovers Left Alive. And Adam Driver starred in Jarmusch’s most recent film, Paterson. But the most of Jarmusch’s recurring collaborators from this zom-com appeared in Coffee and Cigarettes, perhaps his best-known work: Buscemi, Waits, Murray, RZA, and Iggy.
The Dead Don’t Die might be Jim Jarmusch’s first attempt at a zombie movie, but it’s not the first time he’s offered us a quirky, original take on a subgenre of horror cinema.
In 2013, he wrote and directed a romantic movie about a pair of vampires starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston called Only Lovers Left Alive. The movie was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It was also given a spot on the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century poll, which was conducted by 177 critics from around the world.
Naturally, when Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie movie was announced, parallels were drawn with his acclaimed 2013 vampire movie. But according to Chloë Sevigny, The Dead Don’t Die will strike an entirely different tone than that one did: “His vampire picture [Only Lovers Left Alive] was more dramatic and romantic. The Dead Don’t Die is more in the vein of a comedy.”
Jarmusch has been known to make movies in a ton of different styles, all connected by his minimalist filmmaking, but it seems as though this will be his most overtly comedic work yet. It’ll be fun to see how he pulls it off.