The zombie comedy is a very familiar genre. Even long before Edgar Wright took ghouls to the pub with Shaun of the Dead we’ve had goofy encounters with Dan O’Bannon’s, nevertheless terrifying, Living Dead and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Indie favourite Jim Jarmusch adds to this long lineage with a star-studded creature feature that brings Wes Anderson comedic stylings to the slaughter.
Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Officer Minerva Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) must fight off the living dead as they attack the small town of Centreville and it’s strange inhabitants.
The film has all the eccentricity and gore of an indie/cult hybrid, and its quirky atmosphere is certainly a joy. Surprisingly it does also build a fair amount of pathos for its strange characters. There’s just enough exploration of the people behind the cliches to invoke a real sense of sorrow as the town gradually succumbs to its strange curse.
Jarmusch has assembled an impressive cast for his zombie romp. Bill Murray and Adam Driver have a great easy-going chemistry as the film’s leads. Chloe Sevigny is convincing as the panicky potential love interest. Steve Buscemi is a racist farmer, Danny Glover is a kind-hearted hardware clerk, Caleb Landry Jones is an awkward but canny comic book nerd and of course, Tilda Swinton is a samurai sword-wielding Scottish mortician.
It’s a very funny film that mixes genuinely upsetting and graphic zombie attacks with deadpan. It’s also self-referential and enjoys breaking the fourth wall, but not at the cost of the drama. It’s a careful balancing act managed with great assurance by Jarmusch and the cast.
Jarmusch’s surreal horror-comedy is undoubtedly not for everyone. Some are bound to be irritated by its subdued characters, heavy sense of irony and blend of wacky humour and bleak storytelling. But for those that way inclined this is a very finely made cult movie with lots of surprises, humour, and nuance.