When Jim Jarmusch’s latest film was first announced there was an enormous amount of hype surrounding it, if only because the cast was such an impressive one and his previous foray in to the horror comedy genre, Only Lovers Left Alive, had been something rather special indeed. But it received quite a mixed reception upon release, with many disappointed that it wasn’t as eclectic as his take on vampires, and that some of the cast members were rather wasted.
The latter is something of an issue admittedly and it definitely has some issues when it comes to pacing, but the critical response has been rather harsh in my opinion with those who really slammed it perhaps misunderstanding what Jarmusch was aiming to do. For this isn’t as purposefully strange as many of his other films, and is more of a dry, laconic affair, and as long as you don’t go in with ridiculously high expectations the film has a lot of amusing moments and does entertain.
The story is a fairly simple one as Adam Driver and Bill Murray’s sedate policemen wander around the sleepy town of Centreville, rarely having anything more exciting to do than warn local hermit Bob not to steal chickens, but soon there are hints that something’s not quite right with the world what with it staying light for far too long, and news reports of polar fracking suggest that this isn’t just happening to Murray and co but also the entire world.
As all will predict given the title of the film events soon take a gruesome turn as the dead slowly start to return, with Iggy Pop and his wife tearing apart two waitresses from a local diner. While initially perplexed by the case it quickly becomes apparent that zombies are responsible and it takes very little time for everyone to get on board with what might be the end of the world, and then do their best to survive it – some hole up in their businesses, some seek help from the police, and some, well they just get bitten and die pretty damn quickly.
It’s quite a meta affair surprisingly, Jarmusch doesn’t over do it on this front but early on Adam Driver mentions that “This isn’t going to end well” and it’s a phrase which is repeated a good few times , which slightly annoyed initially as I thought it was too on the nose but it’s a gag which has a great pay off. Every so often the fourth wall is broken too, with Bill Murray exclaiming “Are we improvising here?”, while the film’s theme song is discussed in detail, but it’s a device which in general adds to the low key charm of the film.
When it comes to satire Jarmusch isn’t doing anything that new here though, there’s a couple of digs at the Trump government, mostly notably with Steve Buscemi’s Farmer Frank Miller wearing a “Keep American White Again” while the phrase “Let’s not believe something just because one so called scientist says it’s true” is the sort of thing Trump seems to say on a daily basis, and while vaguely funny isn’t that original. The same applies to the zombie’s fascination with the things they love in life, with their occasionally uttering words like “Wifi”, “Free Cable” and “Siri”, and all it’s doing is updating George Romero’s take on zombies flocking to malls, but it’s amusing enough and not over used at least.
The film is by no means perfect and is beset by certain problems however, some of the cast aren’t given enough to do, Buscemi and Carol Kane especially, and it’s hard to care about some (like Selena Gomez and her two hipster pals) as they’re forgotten about for long periods of time. With a few less big names it could have been a far more enjoyable affair but as it is Jarmusch leaps all over the place, and only the storyline following Murray, Driver and Tilda Swinton feels genuinely satisfying. The pacing is off too, there’s about twenty minutes in the first hour which feel repetitive and bland, and it’s a shame that the action doesn’t really kick off until the 50 minute point.
Murray, Driver and Tilda Swinton are superb though, to the extent that I wish the film had mainly only featured those characters so they could have been fleshed out more, Swinton is especially a delight as a doolally Scottish coroner who wields a samurai sword and seems remarkably nonplussed by events, and I’d definitely love to see a spin off film featuring her adventures before and after the events of the film. Meanwhile Murray is as great as he normally is, and Driver shows that he also has particularly funny bones.
It’s by no means an essential film and if you’re not used to Jarmusch’s take on reality the slow pace of the first hour may frustrate you to an extent that you don’t make it to the point where it starts to get really good, and anyone expecting blood to splatter across the screen in increasingly perverse ways, as in many a zombie film, will be disappointed too. But for those looking for a slightly dafter, slightly stranger film featuring the undead stumbling about it does at least offer up a few original elements to this tired genre.