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‘The Dead Don’t Die’ entertains but lacks brevity

It is easy to simply dismiss critical dissatisfaction of a movie as pompousness disguised as intelligence, but it is a wholly separate situation when a film divides both critics and audiences on its quality. “The Dead Don’t Die” currently has user score of 6/10 on IMDB, which I am inclined to agree with.

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Think of a cheap store-bought brownie. You enjoyed it while you had it, but there was no lasting take-away. I enjoyed my time watching “The Dead Don’t Die,” but I came away feeling hollow.

Beat-by-beat, this movie is masterful at deadpan comedy. The dialogue is written in the most absurdly casual manner even in the most gruesome situations. The cinematography is very cut and dry to emphasize the deadpan delivery with still shots, harsh cuts and simple movement. Seeing Adam Driver’s nonchalant attitude about watching a corpse walk out of its cell or performing a drive-by decapitation adds to the film’s hilarity. It’s the juxtaposition of seeing horrible things reacted to with such casualness that you cannot help but laugh.

The second part of the film’s comedic writing is its focus on meta-humor. All of the characters have this innate meta-cognition of the tropes of zombie films and of their situation while still following along with the plot. The film just drops all pretense that typically comes with a zombie film. Even kids know what environmental factors are causing the zombies, characters don’t waste time identifying the zombies and everyone all but breaks the fourth wall in their awareness of the situation.

Adam Driver demonstrates his comedic range with Ronnie Peterson, Bill Murray’s comedic timing is still impeccable as Cliff Robertson and Chloe Sevigny compliments both as straight-man Mindy Morrison. But outside of the main three, the casting feels a little wasted. Danny Glover appears in this movie as Hank Thompson, and while his subplot is enjoyable, it does feel a little like he’s punching under his belt. Tilda Swinton does manage to put in a funny performance as new-to-town mortician Zelda Winston, or as I have come to call her, “Tarantino-esque Irish weaboo.” Steve Buscemi at least gets to be a comedic punching bag, but these three characters never really culminate into much.

“The Dead Don’t Die” is playing at The Lyric Cinema

The aforementioned actors are not even the only noteworthy actors, which becomes a serious issue as the film progresses. Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, RZA and even Sturgill Simpson all make visible appearances in the film but are each only given a few minutes of genuine screen time. Tom Waits’ character even has his own sub-plot as Hermit Bob, but it never seriously affects the plot or has any real impact. These subplots never make a genuine contribution to justify their place in the story. If their inclusion is meant to be a commentary on gratuitous cameos, it’s a mute and unsatisfactory one. Just like the idea of these actors’ inclusions, I think what turned most people off of “The Dead Don’t Die” is the misleading advertising. The advertisements portrayed this movie as a fun romp that was a slight subversion on zombie films.

While the film lives up to some of its advertising promises, there’s a real sense that the ads chose that image of the film because the film does not know what it wants to be either. In addition to the trailing subplots, there’s a lack of thematic consistency, and I do not just mean in what the film ultimately wants to convey to the audience.

Does the film want to revel in its meta-humor and extreme exaggeration of tropes, or does it want to be funny while also subversive with its plot, therefore offering commentary? Does it want the characters to be delightfully stupid but nonplussed by the world around them or satirically poignant with out-of-nowhere insight? What we get as a final result is a movie that makes great jokes about the writing of zombie films but then follows a beat-for-beat zombie plot anyway.

“The Dead Don’t Die” is a cinematic equivalent of a rambling essay. It might make valid points, and those points may be tangentially related, but it does not culminate in a final salient idea. If the movie’s final message is “Zombie films and tropes are so predictable,” then it’s a trite message we have all heard by this point.

Ty Davis can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or Twitter @tydavisACW.

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