Considering how much the zombie horror genre — with its bursts of violence, separated by offbeat and seemingly random moments of character development — matches his own styles, it’s a wonder that the fiercely independent director Jim Jarmusch hasn’t made one before.
But made one he has in “The Dead Don’t Die,” which would have the feel of a generic horror movie if not for Jarmusch’s eerie sense of humor and the wealth of talent that gravitates to him like zombies seeking brains.
Jarmusch’s set-up is minimal. Centerville is a sleepy town with all the usual establishments: A mini-mart, a hotel, and a three-member police department consisting of Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and officers Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny). Other locals include racist farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi), hardware store owner Hank Thompson (Danny Glover), mini-mart clerk Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) and town hermit, Bob (Tom Waits).
Yep, Centerville is all pretty normal, even if the town’s new medical examiner, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), is Scottish with remarkable skills in Japanese swordplay — and the local package delivery service, Wu-PS, is inspired by the Wu-Tang Clan.
The quiet of Centerville is disrupted when two zombies — played by rocker Iggy Pop and indie filmmaker Sara Driver — attack the town diner and kill two employees. (One of them, Fern, is played by Eszter Balint, star of Jarmusch’s 1984 debut, “Stranger than Paradise.”) The police investigate, and Ronnie is the first to say what everybody else won’t: “I’m thinking zombies.”
Soon zombies have overrun Centerville, and not even college kids (including Selena Gomez) in the local motel are safe. Even the dead neighbor, Mallory (Carol Kane), waiting in the police station’s holding cell for a funeral home to pick her up, is suddenly up and about and grunting “Chardonnay.”
Appropriately for Jarmusch, these aren’t fast zombies — more like laconic zombies, moving only as fast as the humor requires. There’s plenty of space for Murray to deliver some low-key one-liners, and for Driver to steal the movie with the most meta movie moment I’ve seen in a long time.
Horror fans may not groove to Jarmusch’s rhythm, and there were moments that reminded me of the “Saturday Night Live” sketch that imagined Wes Anderson making a horror movie, “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.” Those who know Jarmusch’s particular vibe will enjoy the comic ups and downs “The Dead Don’t Die” offers.
‘The Dead Don’t Die’
Opens Friday, June 14, at select theaters, including the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City), Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy), Megaplex at The District (South Jordan) and Megaplex Thanksgiving Point (Lehi). Rated R for R for zombie violence/gore, and for language. Running time: 105 minutes.