In 'The Dead Don't Die,' Jim Jarmusch's Ghouls Close in on Chloë Sevigny

(L to R) Bill Murray as “Officer Cliff Robertson”, Chloë Sevigny as “Officer Minerva Morrison” and Adam Driver as “Officer Ronald Peterson” in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die.' (Focus Features/Abbot Genser)

Chloë Sevigny isn’t giving away any of Jim Jarmusch’s secrets.

In his new zombie-filled movie The Dead Don’t Die, the director peppers one of her co-star’s lines with a meta-commentary about having read the script of “Jim's movie” and the Sturgill Simpson title song that keeps playing on the soundtrack. Having inside information about the plot, Adam Driver, as Officer Ronald Peterson, repeats this phrase every time his small town police force encounters a dead body, “Oh, man. This isn’t gonna end well.”

As the living and the undead start to bump into each other, the audience starts to trust Officer Peterson’s assessment of the situation. It’s the driest performance in a laconic movie that suits Jarmusch’s graphic novelistic approach to the subject. As such, it’s easy to imagine speech bubbles appearing right next to the characters’ heads.

Driver’s part of a trio of officers alongside Bill Murray as their chief Cliff Robertson (also the name of an Oscar-winning actor goes, but a name is all they share), and Sevigny as the increasingly unnerved Officer Minerva Morrison.

Iggy Pop stars as “Male Coffee Zombie” in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die.'
Iggy Pop stars as “Male Coffee Zombie” in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die.' (Focus Features/Frederick Elmes)

My first call to the actress went straight to her voicemail. At the beep, I hear, “If I'm going to die, I want to die in Manhattan.” On my second call, Sevigny confirms that the recording is Pete Campbell’s voice from season two of Mad Men.

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What she can’t confirm is why Driver breaks the fourth wall: “I don't know why he [Jarmusch] put that in there, but I love it. It's one of my favorite parts of the movie. I love when actors turn to the camera,” she says. 

Partly as a result, The Dead Don’t Die may be the un-scariest, most deadpan, zombie movie ever made. It’s a black comedy colored red by piles of guts and spattered gray matter. When Driver (who’s never really in character) comes across the first zombie victims, his response is a carefully measured and wholly accurate, “yuck.”

Jarmusch amps up the campy humor with cameo appearances from a beloved, easily recognizable supporting cast. Iggy Pop finds the role of a lifetime as a yellow-eyed ghoul who introduces himself by pushing his hands up from a grave. Carol Kane utters only one word from her undead mouth, “chardonnay.” And, per usual, Tilda Swinton adds her own alien quality to the mix. In this incarnation, her skin is nearly translucent as she wields a samurai sword with the verve and dexterity of The Walking Dead’s Michonne.

Tilda Swinton stars as “Zelda Winston” in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die.’
Tilda Swinton stars as “Zelda Winston” in writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die.’ (Focus Features/Frederick Elmes)

From the audience’s point of view, it looks like the actors are having a ball. But Sevigny says there wasn’t room for messing around. “It was also very stressful though because Adam was going to shoot Star Wars [The Rise of Skywalker], so we didn't have a lot of time,” she says. “There was a real cap on the days that we could have with him.” Despite those time constraints, Jarmusch managed to create a consistently mordant mood throughout the movie.

I ask about a scene she shares with Swinton in The Dead Don’t Die. “I love Tilda. I love working with her and just being around her and basking in her glow,” she says. “That scene was one of my favorite scenes to do. Minny was very curious about her. They [the officers] talk about her before that scene and I think that they were flirting a little bit.”

Sevigny, who previously worked with the director on Broken Flowers, tried to explain how he achieves his particular style. “I think that's just on the page,” she says. “It's just in the dialogue ... the tone of it. Jim likes to watch people think. He likes a lot of breath between lines and the rhythm is very specific. I don't think that he even says anything about it.”

And with that short bit of reporting, she keeps the Jarmusch mystique intact.

The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday, June 13 at the AMC Kabuki, Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

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