By all accounts, in my humble opinion, this had the potential to be the next 'Zombieland' - and Bill Murray being in it would have been the icing on the cake. The trailer made this look pretty damn good. But while the film isn't without it's moments, I'm sad to report that in a zombie movie featuring Bill Murray, *deep breath* his jokes somehow mostly fall flat.
It's weird 'cause in a way, his dry, nonchalant humor fits this film very well. But the writing has it so that he's not even the funniest character in the movie, and that's admittedly a pretty big bummer. Who is, you ask? It's only my humble opinion, but Tilda Swinton. More on that in a bit. The bottom line, this movie should have been better than it was. Especially considering it's all-star cast.
The film opens up with a song called 'The Dead Don't Die' by Sturgill Simpson, which becomes it's own character. We soon meet two country cops, Cliff Robertson (Murray), and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver). They are called to take in a man known in town as Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), accused by Farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) for killing some of his farm animals. However, Bob is innocent, and this is the first strange occurrence which sets everything in motion.
Through these characters, we meet the rest of town, consisting of fellow officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny), Everyman character Frank Thompson (Danny Glover), joke store runner Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), reporter Posie Juarez (Rosie Parez), a group of passing-through teens, headed by Zoe (Selena Gomez), and last but definitely not least, and everything that made this movie remotely good, morgue owner Zelda Winston (Swinton - as mentioned earlier).
We find out that the Earth is shifting its poles, causing odd hours of daylight, strange behavior in animals, and the dead coming back to life... wait, what? Well, anyway, that's what causes it here. I'll give it points for originality, at least. This is a straight up goofy comedy, too, so it's passable for a nice a ridiculous reason. Poles have shifted on this Earth before, and we weren't around yet to see what would have happened. Zombies are a stretch, but it's a neat, untapped reason.
I'm gonna be perfectly fair. When looking at the execution of this movie, I can sort of get that it was going for an all-out farce, where there were no limits. My best comparison would be to 'Kung Pow: Enter the Fist' as an all-out farce on old Kung-Fu movies. This is doing the same thing with zombies and their respective tropes. And like Kung Pow, it's adding a bit of extra "WTF" to it all with a weird twist ending. I also believe that the dry humor comes from the idea that these tropes are all old news, and things are being treated as a sort of "oh-this-again" situation, which is understandable. Let's face it, even if you can be truly original with zombies right now, they aren't exactly being asked for these days. The point is, I think I totally get what they were trying to do here, and I'll give them some leeway on it.
This is a title that's very self-aware, and breaks the fourth wall several times. In fact, the way they do fourth-wall breaking in this is a prime example of how the humor works. In one instance, Zelda asks for Ronnie's car keys. In handing them over, we see a Star Destroyer from Star Wars, and we all have a little fourth-wall snicker at the fact that Adam Driver is carrying around a mini Star Destroyer. On the other hand, it also goes all out when "reading the script" is mentioned, thus making the film a very obvious fake world, and eliminating any stakes whatsoever. It's really more of a fourth wall cliche.
Let's get back to Tilda Swinton though. When I think of Ms. Swinton, I think of her as being very classy, wise, proper, and pretty well set on her serious roles. Here, she lets it all out. She's a bad ass ninja type, extremely strange and eccentric, funny in her delivery, and seems to be the only proactive character in the movie. It makes me wonder if they were also going for the Daryl trope (the "everyone's favorite" character). Anyway, she's the main reason for being in your seat as opposed to Bill Murray. That's a sad thought, but it's okay. Murray will be back in 2020's 'Ghostbusters' follow up, as the Venkman we all know and love.
In closing, the humor is all over the place with more moments of giggling than laughing out loud. Following that, for such a cast, some of these characters are just tossed aside without a single thought. In fact, there's one group (I won't spoil who) who just run off and disappear, never to be heard of again. There were just so many loose ends here. Even if that was intentional as another sort of zombie trope, I can't give it a pass. I think the film's problem was that it didn't know where to draw the line. It just got too all-out ridiculous. But is it weird that I could see this becoming a cult hit in the near future, despite the fact that I didn't exactly love it? I guess time will tell.