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Film / The Dead Don't Die

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The Dead Don't Die is a 2019 American Zombie Apocalypse-themed Horror Comedy film, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and featuring an All-Star Cast.

After a vague sci-fi Excuse Plot leads the dead to rise again, three small-town cops set out to kill some zombies. There's also a nerdy cashier, a delivery guy, a samurai mortician, some teenage hippies, a trio of kids in juvenile detention, and Hermit Bob, among others. Are they important to the plot? Kinda.

Not to be confused with Robert Bloch's short story of the same title, or its 1975 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation directed by Curtis Harrington.

Featured tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: Ronnie Peterson has a Star Wars keyring. Adam Driver, who plays him, also plays Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel movies.
  • The Ace: Zelda is remarkably adept at killing zombies, beheading them gracefully with her katana in ways that can only be described as superhuman, and never once betrays any sign of fear or hesitation regarding the horror she's contending with. It helps that she isn't human at all: she's an alien.
  • Apocalypse How: Explicitly Class 2, implicitly Class 4. The explanation for why zombies are now roaming around is that big government and corporate fracking of the north and south pole has thrown the Earth off of its axis. On-top of the dead returning to life, the day-night cycle has been thrown off, animals behave erratically, everyone's clocks have stopped, and radio and television signals glitch out at random. It is also briefly brought up that the global effects of the fracking could produce floods, earthquakes, and a whole host of other disasters that might potentially lead to mass extinction, but the events of the film are too brief to show any of this happening.
  • Asshole Victim: Both in and out of universe, farmer Miller is considered an abrasive asshole. Absolutely nobody minds when he's eaten by a zombie horde.
  • Attractive Zombie: Zelda spots an attractive zombie woman wearing a revealing outfit, and comments that the skirt "isn't her tartan" before killing her. Cliff takes a while to gaze on an undead tennis player.
  • Author Appeal: Jim Jarmusch is a noted fan of coffee, as evidenced by his film Coffee and Cigarettes. The first two zombies of the film attack a diner because they're obsessed with coffee.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: How Ronnie and Cliff make their last stand.
  • Behind the Black: One of the characters trips in a very obvious hole in a graveyard.
  • Berserk Board Barricade: Hank and Bobby hammer in some boards across the doorway to the store. Zombies just come from the other side, causing them to give up.
  • Binocular Shot: Hermit Bob gets several as he observes people fighting against the zombies.
  • Bishie Sparkle: In a rare live action example, Zoe gets one in her introduction.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Standard procedure for killing a zombie.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Early on, Ronnie states that the music he's playing on the car stereo is the "theme song," and repeatedly notes that "this is all going to end badly." In the final act, he reveals that he's read the script of the film and knows how it's going to end.
  • Brick Joke: Hermit Bob really did steal that chicken.
  • The Cameo: Many of the big-named stars in the cast appear in what are essentially cameos. Perhaps the most notable is Sturgill Simpson, who provides the theme song and the name of the film and has a cameo as the Guitar Zombie.
  • Casting Gag: Adam Driver playing a small-town deputy that's a big fan of Star Wars.
  • Catchphrase: Ronnie's "This is all going to end badly." It goes on to drive Cliff up the wall.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Zelda seems to think that preparing the bodies in her funeral home means giving them a make-up inspired by a fashion magazine. Justified since she's revealed to be an alien.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Much of Hermit Bob's commentary.
  • Cool Car: Several characters comment on how cool Zoe's '67 Pontiac Lemans (misidentified in the movie as a '68) is. Zelda notes her appreciation of the SMART car, though it's not really played as cool.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Lilly, the woman who runs the town cleaning service, is one of the first two victims of the zombies and suffers the worse death; she is knocked down by a zombie who then rips out pieces of her stomach and intestines while she moans in pain. You can hear her moaning the whole time the zombies are drinking coffee and leaving the diner, meaning she was left to bleed to death overnight.
  • Dark Comedy: Everything is played for dark humor rather than horror.
  • Downer Ending: Even though it's a comedic zombie movie in the vein of Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, or Anna and the Apocalypse, it doesn't have anything resembling a happy ending. Just about every named character dies horribly, and Cliff and Ronnie, aware they're characters in a movie and are going to die no matter what, opt to go out in a blaze of glory, taking as many zombies with them as they can until they're inevitably overwhelmed. Zelda is revealed to be an alien who gets her friends to pick her up in their UFO, abandoning the only survivors (Stella, Olivia, Geronima, and Hermit Bob) to fend for themselves, but given the sheer scope of the outbreak and what's causing it, there's no indication that they aren't doomed along with the rest of the planet.
  • Driven to Suicide: Eventually, Mindy is terrified out of her mind and can't take any more of the zombies banging on their police cruiser, and after she sees her zombified grandmother, she gets out of the car, opting to be eaten alive rather than endure the pressure any second longer.
  • Dull Surprise:
    (A UFO just showed up and retrieved Zelda)
    Ronnie: (with completely blank face and zero surprise in his voice) Well that was unexpected.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: There's a Hispanic woman cleaning the floors at the diner who tries to fight off an attacking zombie with her mop.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Just about every character dies, and Zelda is perhaps the only character who isn't doomed - and only because she outright leaves the planet.
  • Excuse Plot: The planet’s axis is thrown off by polar fracking. This event causes the dead to rise again as zombies…somehow.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Cliff and Ronnie are fully aware they are going to die, but it doesn't stop them from calmly and methodically destroying as many zombies as they can. When Bobbie and Hank get overrun, they just stand up for as long as they can and then allow themselves to be eaten.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Hank and Bobby are doing pretty well against the zombies before realizing that the back door is unlocked and more are coming in that way.
  • Flat Character: There are too many characters introduced to develop any of them.
  • Flying Saucer: Zelda gets picked up in one. She's apparently an alien.
  • Full-Name Basis: Zelda only ever addresses people using their complete first, middle and last names.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on Cliff makes a Retirony comment, and when Ronnie asked why Cliff didn't retire, Cliff asks if they're improvising, and that Ronnie probably knows. It's later revealed they know the script and this is a brief fourth wall break.
  • Genre Refugee: Zelda feels more like an over-the-top character from a campy, action-packed martial arts film that wandered into a more rustic zombie movie. Turns out she's actually more of a refugee from an alien-themed movie.
  • Genre Savvy: Unusually for a zombie film, most people are already aware of what zombies are and what the rules are for killing them.
  • Greek Chorus: The three inmates in the juvenile detention facility (particularly Geronimo) talking about the environmental effects and likelihood of zombies coming. Hermit Bob, as well.
  • Green Aesop: It's not exactly subtle about it. The Zombie Apocalypse is explicitly caused by polar fracking while the presidential administration lies about it. Two sympathetic characters drive fuel-efficient cars (a Prius and a SMART car).
  • The Hermit: Hermit Bob, obviously. He lives alone in the woods, and while he repeatedly witnesses zombie attacks he's always too far away for them to notice.
  • Human Aliens: Zelda passes for an albino woman, but she turns out to be an alien.
  • Indecisive Parody: It's nearly impossible to tell when the movie is trying to be funny, or if it's even trying to be funny at all. It's equally hard to tell if the heavy-handed sociopolitical commentary is meant to be taken seriously, or if it's merely poking fun at how Anvilicious zombie movies typically are with their messaging.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Ronnie often needs multiple full-strength blows with a machete to decapitate a zombie, and he's even complimented on his swing. Zelda, however, decapitates zombies using her katana with casual ease. It might have a little to do with the fact that she's an alien.
  • Last Stand: Ronnie and Cliff go out in a blaze of glory, killing zombies in a cemetery. They know it's a last stand before they begin, with Ronnie having read the script.
  • Medium Awareness: Early on, Ronnie shows signs of being aware he's in a movie, particularly in how he refers to Sturgill Simpson's "The Dead Don't Die" as "the theme song." As it turns out, he read the film's script ahead of time (most of it anyway). Cliff also read the script, or at least the parts pertaining to him, and thus also knew he was in a movie.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Zelda is a Scottish-Buddhist samurai mortician alien.
  • No Zombie Cannibals: As is typical for a zombie film, the zombies don't attack each other.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Notably averted. Ronnie announces very early on that he thinks the problem is zombies.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The zombies in this film aren't driven by a hunger for flesh, per se, but they are driven by the obsessions they had in life and just happen to attack any living people they find. For example, the first two zombies to rise from their graves only kill the waitresses at the diner because they wanted coffee. They also don't bleed when wounded, but release some kind of black smoke from their bodies, and appear to maintain some degree of intelligence, since Mindy's zombified grandmother remembers her and Hank doesn't attack Cliff after he becomes a zombie, content to just stand there when the latter says hello to him.
  • Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: Ronnie patiently explains to Chief Cliff how to kill zombies.
    Bobby: To kill the dead, kill the head.
  • Punny Name: Zelda Winston (played by Tilda Swinton) and Posie Juarez (played by Rosie Perez)
  • Running Gag:
    • Various characters keep mentioning how the gruesome murder might be as well caused by "several wild animals". Eventually becomes a Brick Joke once the news reporter also mentions it as possible cause of death.
    • Talking about the theme song.
  • Sanity Slippage: As the zombie apocalypse goes more and more overwhelming, Mindy is slowly but surely sliding down the slope. Especially since the other two officers are super-stoic, to an almost unhealthy degree.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Mindy never seems to notice or realise when Cliff or Ronnie make some sarcastic remarks.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Once Zelda figures out what's happening, she arranges for a pick-up and departs the planet.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: None of the characters or plot lines really develop into much, and almost everyone dies.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous nods toward Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), along with character discussing them.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Hermit Bob is busy eating a chicken leg while watching farmer Miller getting torn apart.
  • The Stoic: Both Cliff and Ronnie are impossibly calm when dealing with undead rising from their graves. While Cliff eventually cracks, Ronnie remains perfectly calm. That's because they both read the script of the movie they are in. While Cliff only got scenes with him, Ronnie read the whole thing, thus they can't be surprised by anything that happens around them.
  • Take That!: Shots fired at the Trump administration aren't particularly subtle, though his name is never mentioned. Farmer Miller, whom everyone described as an asshole, wears a MAGA-inspired hat reading "Keep America White Again." The disastrous polar fracking is portrayed as a policy of the lying presidential administration, which is obviously a shot at Trump's environmental policy.
  • Title Drop: The name of the song that provides the film's title is mentioned and played many times.
  • Titled After the Song: "The Dead Don't Die," by Sturgill Simpson. Of course, in the song, it's metaphorical.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Hank forgets he has a back door to his shop and it gets him and Bobby killed.
    • Cliff, Ronnie and Mindy think its a good idea to drive into a cemetery during a zombie outbreak. They high center their car on some zombie corpses and they all die.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Hank and Bobby do a pretty good job fighting the zombies once they rise.
  • Two Girls and a Guy: The three juvenile detention center inmates.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: The three protagonists, and the hipsters from Cleveland.
  • Vomiting Cop: Mindy vomits after seeing the aftermath at the diner.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Geronimo, Olivia, and Stella are last seen escaping from the juvenile detention center and going into a supposedly safe place. We don't find out what happens to them afterwards. Hermit Bob's fate is also left unknown; he observes the final battle from the distance and calls the world a terrible place right at the end of the movie.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Fairly classic zombies, with the idea that they pursue the obsessions they have in life made very explicit.