Misplaced sense of loyalty? Desire to fill the red carpet with big international stars? One thing is for sure: the decision to open this 72nd International Cannes Film Festival with The Dead Don’t Die has nothing to do with the film’s quality, which shouldn’t even be part of the Official Competition. By dint of distancing himself from the genre and sneering at it constantly, Jim Jarmush just proves that he has nothing left to say.

Not that this is the first time Jarmush pulls this off: in theory, the project looked really intriguing. After tackling vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive, the director dives head-on into the zombie genre. His pitch is as simple as it gets: the Earth’s rotation has changed, and now the dead are rising and attacking the living. The story of The Dead Don’t Die entirely takes place in a small town called Centerville, and though it focuses on three main cop characters (played by Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny), a slew of other characters are introduced to diversify the outlooks on the situation. Hence the presence of a samurai embalmer (Tilda Swinton), an obviously idiotic Trump supporter (Steve Buscemi), a carefree teenager (Selena Gomez), a recluse (Tom Waits), a recognizable zombie (Iggy Pop), and so on.

But Jarmush never turns his film into a coherent piece of work, and almost immediately betrays his true intentions as it becomes very clear very quickly that he just wants to have fun with his pals. Among all the above-mentioned stars, not many get a truly essential part in the story. The superficial nature of this ensemble cast would be easily forgivable were it not for the fact that the director never deigns to offer anything of substance. Jarmush proudly wears his patronising, self-important artsy hat and looks down on the genre by going circles with pointless meta-jokes.

Post-modern to the bone, The Dead Don’t Die is chock-full of self-aware « comedic » bits. When the two cops played by Bill Murray and Adam Driver are listening to the radio, they hear the song « The Dead Don’t Die », specially created and sung by Sturgill Simpson. Just a way of making the title part of the film’s diegesis? Yes, at least until one of them is surprised that he recognizes the song, and the other answers « Obviously, it’s the film’s theme song ». Dabbling in the lowest levels of meta-humour, this approach just keeps intensifying until reaching rock bottom when Adam Driver takes a Star Wars key ring out of his pocket and someone points it out to him. (The actor playing Kylo Ren using Star Wars merchandising in another film? HI-LA-RIOUS.) Jarmush digs even deeper when Bill Murray (forget their characters, let’s just call them for whom they’re playing: themselves) asks Adam Driver how he knew things would go bad from the get-go, only for Driver to answer: « Jim showed me the script ». And if peak self-important writing wasn’t enough, the actors just make it worse, as if the filmmaker’s only direction had been to play like they shouldn’t give a fuck. Well, at least they listened, because no one seems to be interested by what is going on around them, hence making the film an entirely disembodied exercise.

And what of the zombies?

They’re pointless, as Jarmush makes it abundantly clear he has no interest in the subject matter by off-handedly reducing it to its most banal elements, all the while taking a few easy shots at classics from the genre. Apparently, The Dead Don’t Die should be considered a thoughtful critique of consumerism because zombies keep repeating words such as WiFi, Siri, or Nike. We’d probably be laughing along if the rest wasn’t so infuriating.

Directed by Jim Jarmush
With Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Svinton, Tom Waits

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