July 1, 2019
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Cinefex: “The Dead Don’t Die” – Q&A with Alex Hansson

Zombified Fessenden hangin’ with the undead.

“The Dead Don’t Die” – Q&A with Alex Hansson

by Joe Fordham

Zombies come in many flavors. For many horror devotees, George A. Romero defined the genre with his Pittsburgh-made 1968 Night of the Living Dead. The black and white, 16mm shocker depicted shuffling corpses with a hunger for flesh ostensibly triggered, per a half-glimpsed TV news report, by a crashed Venusian probe. Romero’s own sequels DawnDay and Land of the Dead hinted at deeper themes of social unrest as cause of the undead pandemic. The Bela Lugosi 1932 feature White Zombie offered Haiti voodoo as trigger for reanimating the dead, as did Wes Craven’s gripping 1988 thriller The Serpent and the Rainbow. Lucio Fulci and other European imitators piled on zombie gore with tropical zeal through the 1980s. More recent filmmakers goosed the undead into jittery hyena-like packs in 28 Days Later and Train to Busan. Zombies were played for laughs in Shaun of the Deadand Zombieland. They went primetime in AMC’s The Walking Dead. And World War Z presented the Z-word as Hollywood extravaganza.

Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch was aware of the cinematic legacy piled behind him when he offered his own take on the zombie phenomenon in Focus Features’ The Dead Don’t Die. The indie cinema mogul had a rich history of playing with Hollywood stereotypes in his slow-burning, deadpan style in Down by LawNight on Earth, Dead Man and his 2013 postmodern vampire fable Only Lovers Left Alive. When news of Jarmusch’s foray into the zombie genre was announced at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, an all-star cast of Jarmusch collaborators signed on – including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Tilda Swinton.

New to the team was visual effects supervisor Alex Hansson, founder of Haymaker in Gothenburg, Sweden. After a landing the assignment, Hansson joined Jarmusch and cinematographer Frederick Elmes to scout locations for their small-town zombie apocalypse in upper New York state, offering digital solutions to augment in-camera zombie makeup effects created at Mike Marino’s Prosthetic Renaissance. After ten months of intense postproduction, followed by a premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Hansson joined Cinefex to recall his zombie experience with Jarmusch.

CINEFEX: The concept of Jim Jarmusch doing a zombie movie is quite mind-boggling. How did this come about, and how did Jim explain his intentions to you?

HANSSON: Well, preproduction had been going for about a year when I received the script. About a week later, I had a Skype call with Jim. The producer decided, ‘Well, you’ll have to be here next week to have a briefing with Jim and you guys are going to go location scouting.’ That was it. It was very fast-paced. When I was in New York on the briefing I asked him, ‘How do you visualize the zombies?’ He said, ‘Well, I want them to be filled with dust.’ I thought, okay, that sounds cool. I had references from Bladegoing through my head.

When we went location scouting, I got to know him more, because far less stress than shooting. I hung out with Jim and Fred Elmes for a day or two. We were viewing a graveyard location and we discussed one of Tilda Swinton’s big scenes.

CINEFEX: Tilda plays the town mortician, who is very skilled with a samurai sword.

HANSSON: Yes, I told Jim, from the script, it read like a great scene for her character, and I suggested we could shoot her attacking all these zombies as a one-take action moment. One zombie coming up behind her, she turns around and she does a vertical slice right through him, and then she turns again. I suggested we could stay in frame, not cut away, all in one hero shot. And for the vertical split, I asked could we make that guy be bald, to make our visual effects work a little easier without the hair. Jim said, yeah, we can do that. And by the way, that happened – when we returned to shoot that scene, the guy was bald.

CINEFEX: It’s good to hear that he was so receptive. Did Jim like to use storyboards?

HANSSON: Yes, and that turned out to be good reference. He didn’t always shoot storyboards exactly, but it was a very useful for visual effects.

CINEFEX: Jim’s films are so much about character and mood, it’s hard to imagine him doing a lot of previs and technical preparation.

HANSSON: That’s right. To wind back a little bit, when we were in the briefing room before we went out location scouting, one of Jim’s first comments was, ‘I’m used to doing movies with people talking, so you have to tell me what to do here.’ He was very open-minded about visual effects from the first minute I met him, which is extremely rare. When people have asked me about how it was working with Jim, I’ve often told them it was my best experience ever working with a director. And this was working with a director who confessed he didn’t know visual effects. He might not have understood the process, but he had so much respect for it.

CINEFEX: Did you discuss previous zombie films?

HANSSON: Yes, Jim loved the old-school zombie films. That was the direction he wanted to go. He was not a fan of fast-paced zombies. He made that clear from the beginning. One of the notes he gave me was we wanted to see ‘dust’ when zombies were killed.

CINEFEX: So, the undead were not wet inside?

HANSSON: Exactly – just ‘dust.’ I was trying to get into his head, so I asked him, did he imagine this dust might be like when you go out in the woods, you find a piece of a log that has gone rotten and, when you touch it, it just goes pfft. I asked him, ‘Is that it?’ As if, the bones inside the body might still be solid, but everything else is like more of the log. He said, ‘Yes, you nailed it.’ That was my brief.

CINEFEX: How did you develop zombie dust effects?

HANSSON: After I flew back home to Sweden, right away I brought my camera to my parking garage and I started shooting plates with myself acting as a zombie. I gave that footage to my artists, and we started working on the zombie dust effect. The shoot was coming up fast, and so, within about a week we did some tests, and I sent a couple of different proposals over to Jim. He said, ‘This is exactly what I want!’ We weren’t sure what he was looking for, but that was encouraging, and my team kept refining that effect all the way to shot production.

CINEFEX: Did you try physically throwing dust on people on set?

HANSSON: There were a few zombie deaths-by-gunshot where the special effects team tried to spray a dust effect. There was supposed to be more of that. I wanted dust to end up on the clothes of the zombies getting hurt and, initially, I had asked to have practical dust on-set, as a secondary effect. For instance, when Bill Murray’s character was shooting off zombie heads, I wanted dust to land on the actors’ clothes. They couldn’t make that happen. So, we did that 100-percent digitally. I kept working with my artists. We tried Vector Paint in Nuke, and when we ended up adding that to shot, that was a big surprise to Jim because we had not been able to achieve that during production. It was something that I wanted to add to make the visual effects work better, and it ended up working great.

CINEFEX: How did you work with makeup effects? We know Mike Marino’s work from Black Swan, and more recently True Detective, and he is a very talented artist.

HANSSON: Yes, Prosthetic Renaissance designed all the zombie makeups. They had different levels of detail – hero makeups, makeups where zombies were within a 10-meter distance, and then the extras who wore custom masks. There were a couple of scenes where the script indicated heads falling off. My first criteria for those was to make sure they were not featured in close-up, with heads spinning and rolling on the floor right next to the camera, which could have involved visual effects. Mike’s team built those heads practically. In two shots, they ended up quite close to camera, but thanks to the great work they did, those shots did not need visual effects. My other request was that when we were going to chop off a head, I asked for a sharp and detailed cut point. Mike’s team made the makeup to work with that.

CINEFEX: What were your criteria for decapitation scenes?

HANSSON: For all decapitations, I asked Fred Elmes to shoot using a large frame area. He was open to that and we ended up shooting 4K, using the new Arri Alexa LF. I also asked if we could use master prime lenses, to make use of Arriflex’s Lens Data System. For some reason that didn’t work out, so I had no metadata. On difficult shots, where it was obvious that we would have tracking problems, we added tracking markers to the zombie actors, and then we lidar scanned every scene. After Jim was happy with a take, I’d immediately run in with my own custom rig – which captures high dynamic range images and lidar. That was part of the deal that I made with the producers and the film crew, and it was a very efficient way to light CG elements that we were adding to the scenes. That helped us track the environment, and gave us data so we could mesh the lighting and the environment. We then used HDRI textures to map lighting back onto the mesh. After that, we did a lot of roto animation to add digital effects to zombie deaths.

CINEFEX: You had a lot of those – there’s Bill Murray with his shotgun, Adam Driver beheads Carol Kane and many others with a machete, Danny Glover uses gardening shears – was each zombie death a custom build?

HANSSON: This was a low-budget production, so sometimes we would finish shooting, redress the same stunt person, Mike Marino’s team would redo the makeup, and suddenly we had another zombie. In each instance, when we knew we were going to be doing a zombie death, I’d ship them off to be scanned. Travis Reinke, founder of SCANable, scanned all the actors for us on set. They gave us raw scans back, and then we went to work.

One of our toughest challenges was we had so many zombie deaths, I wanted to avoid them feeling repetitive. I asked my artists come up with different techniques. For Steve Buscemi, we blew off half of his head. For another zombie in the graveyard, we blew off his head but decided to keep his jaw going as he fell. The deaths were part of the humor of the film, so we tried to make them feel comedic, in terms of how they came apart in different places every time.

CINEFEX: Did you build a kit of body parts?

HANSSON: We built custom parts. We did a quick rig for each head that was blown off. If we wanted the neck to flap in the air, we did a quick and dirty rig, and then we figured out what worked for that specific shot. It had to be time-efficient.

CINEFEX: How did you animate the innards?

HANSSON: Going back to the R&D, where I used myself as a zombie, I had my Houdini artist to work on an effects setup that he refined so we could customize the rig to each shot. That’s how we did every shot. We rendered Side Effects Deep Camera maps, which allowed us to work with skin shaders in Autodesk Maya and 3D rendering in Chaos Group V-Ray. We took Mantra renders from Houdini and V-Ray renders from Maya, combined them in the composite and rotoscoped the actors from the plate. That gave us control of depth for our dust effects.

CINEFEX: Where did you make the blends to the actors?

HANSSON: We scanned most of stunt guys from the sternum up. Once we had an edit of a scene, we studied each specific shot to decide how far up we needed to roto-animate, and then it was up to comp to find the magic point for each transition. I tried to limit custom shaders and textures, and instead used camera mapping from the plate and re-mapped onto the 3D model using manual roto animation. In a few places, we had to use cloth simulations for flesh effects, depending what happened after the head was chopped, or the angle of the character in the plate.

CINEFEX: When Tilda is using her katana, and she gives the bald guy a vertical slice, how did you create his internal anatomy?

HANSSON: We had the neck bone together with the skull. And we found some textures to map his insides and inside his head. It is interesting what you can find online.

CINEFEX: What was your brief for the science fiction finale?

HANSSON: Jim and his production designer, Alex DiGerlando, wanted to see a 1950s-style flying saucer. At first, they were talking about shooting that as a model, because they wanted it to feel old-school. I wasn’t sure about that, because I knew there would be a lot more work if they went that way. Pretty soon, I heard they moved away from that, which gave us much more control, but they wanted to keep that retro feeling. They gave me a reference picture from a black and white UFO sci-fi movie. I suggested to my team that we could give that a modern touch, using volumetric lighting and textures that could make it feel more interesting than the typical aluminum finish they used back then. We rendered a still frame for Jim and he loved it right away.

CINEFEX: How did you integrate Tilda and all the zombies?

HANSSON: When we did the location scout, Jim told me he wanted somewhere in between 150 to 200 zombies. We animated those digitally using Houdini’s new crowd simulation tool, which was very effective. We modeled 25 to 30 individual zombies and then made small adjustments so each one looked unique. Like most of the film, we shot day for night, and that made this scene so difficult, as the saucer was coming down with its light beam reaching out to Tilda. They wanted her to disappear into the light, but I knew when we were shooting in full sunshine there was no way we’d be able to create that interaction, with a very strong light coming down on her from above. To accomplish that, we did a full body scan of Tilda, and that enabled us to light her correctly when we added the effects.

CINEFEX: It is a strange ending to an amusing film. You must have asked Jim Jarmusch ‘what did the zombie represent for you?’

HANSSON: Well, I think it’s obvious when you see the film. They represent us. That was Jim’s take on the world, where it’s at now. It was funny, my wife was with me in Cannes, and we talked to Jim at the after-party and she asked him, ‘So, do you like zombies as much as my husband?’ Because I’d been in this for 10 months straight, 7 days a week and it had become a part of my life. Jim answered to my wife, ‘I hate zombies! I hate everything about them. I have always done. They’re stupid, they’re slow, they’re not sexy, like vampires. They’re dumb.’ That was such a funny answer. You’ll have to see for yourself. There are a lot of political statements.

Read Q&A here!

Now playing in theaters, check your local listings!

June 28, 2019
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Weekends with GEP: I SELL THE DEAD

This weekend, in celebration of GEP pal Glenn McQuaid’s Birthday,
we invite you to enjoy his colorful horror-comedy adventure I SELL THE DEAD.

Starring Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman,
John Speredakos and the late Angus Scrimm.

McQuaid’s many collaborations with Glass Eye include co-curating TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE,
visual effects on THE ROOST and THE LAST WINTER, GEP Logos, Comix,
THE TROUBLE WITH DAD as part of Chilling Visions: 5 States of Fear and more!

I Sell The Dead available on iTunes

June 27, 2019
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Pride: GEP pal Glenn McQuaid on how “Fright Night” saved his life

THE BOYS NEXT DOOR: The Homoeroticism of Fright Night and how it saved my life

At fifteen years of age, and after years of trying to pray it away, the dawning horror that my sexual preference was not going anywhere was met with a deep-seated conviction that the life ahead of me was one to be pitied, feared or laughed at. Because that’s what popular entertainment had always taught me about the homosexual. Of course, the Catholic Church was also to blame, homosexuals went to hell according to them. But even at a young age I knew not to trust a bunch of old men in capes and so it was television and film, two of my biggest passions, that thought me all about what a homosexual was, and as crazy as it now seems, I would rather have killed myself than allow myself to be defined by what I saw.

At fifteen years of age, Fright Night opened in Dublin. From the moment Charlie Brewster’s mom says, “I hear he’s got a live-in carpenter, with my luck, he’s probably gay” all of that changed. Right off the bat, Judy Brewster’s non-judgmental reference to her possibly gay next-door neighbors had me riveted to my seat. There was nothing about her intonation that suggested mockery, fear or pity.

When we get to meet the new neighbors, Jerry Dandridge and Billy Cole, sure, he’s a vampire and Billy’s his ghoul, but they are also charming, funny and, most importantly, intimate, protective and caring of one another. There is the obvious scene where Billy tends to Jerry’s hand injury (on his knees!) but there are many other glances and gestures that led me to believe I was getting my first honest glimpse at a gay couple in film.

Around this time, I was getting into art history and I happened upon a painting by David Hockney called Domestic Scene, it’s a very simple, almost childlike composition of two naked men, one bathing the other in a shower, there’s nothing erotic in the painting other than the simple truth behind it that seemed so subversive to me at the time- that homosexual couples can care for one another just the same as heterosexual couples. This was a new concept for me and it was a game changer because it meant that I could begin to let go of all of the shame and fear that I was holding onto, and while I don’t think Tom Holland sat down to definitively write a homosexual couple, I do think the ambiguity behind Billy and Jerry’s relationship was absolutely a choice. And that choice became footing for me to believe that I might one day find intimacy and even love.

It is hard to express to heterosexual audiences, or even younger queer audiences, what the lack of positive queer representation in film did to kids starved of hope but I will never forget what a revelation Fright Night was to me, I have no doubt that it gave me the strength I needed to eventually kick down my closet door and live my life to my fullest.

Read article on Gayly Dreadful HERE

June 27, 2019
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The New Yorker says: THE DEAD DON’T DIE is “Fiercely Political”

THE DEAD DON’T DIE still in theaters!!

From The New Yorker: “The Dead Don’t Die” is also a film of extremes. Though Jim Jarmusch is only sixty-six, he is nearly forty years deep into his career—and “The Dead Don’t Die” can be considered his first “late” film, reflecting the kind of radical repudiation of conventions, of familiar practices, of settled ways, of ordinary life and ordinariness as such, that directors make with a sense of end times. With uproarious derisiveness yet also empathetic warmth, Jarmusch borrows a small but solid batch of horror-movie tropes to evoke an existential tabula rasa with (almost) no way out.

Read Full Review HERE

June 20, 2019
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TBT 2014: Bloodbath

2014, Ethan Hawke and Fessenden on the set of the 

June 17, 2019
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Entertainment Weekly: THE RANGER “The Best Horror Films of 2019 So Far”

From Entertainment Weekly:  Jenn Wexler’s directorial debut, which recently debuted on the streaming service Shudder, is a mayhem-filled punk-rock slasher with a stand-out performance from Jeremy Holm as the titular wilderness-protector and oddly likable maniac.

See Full List HERE

June 14, 2019
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Father’s Day Weekend with GEP: Stray Bullets

This Father’s Day weekend, revisit Jack Fessenden’s directorial debut feature, STRAY BULLETS.
Starring James LeGros, Kevin Corrigan, Jack Fessenden, Asa Spurlock, John Speredakos
and Proud Papa Fessenden.

Explore the father/son filmmaker dynamic on set in “Sweating Bullets: The Making of a Kid’s Movie”
and watch Fessenden’s zombie-horror short film “Riding Shotgun,” exclusively on iTunes.

Stray Bullets available on iTunes

June 14, 2019
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Morbidly Beautiful: DEPRAVED “A unique and unforgettable adaptation of Frankenstein”

From Morbidly Beautiful: I have always loved the Frankenstein mythos and have been heartbroken time and again by what happens to the poor soul, usually known as The Creature. At the Portland Horror Film Festival, I got a chance to screen the latest adaptation of the classic tale from indie movie rock star Larry Fessenden. Depraved is a fantastic film! It is soulful, disturbing, unique in its modern setting, and I adored it. We watch the entire film through the eyes of the creature, who in this film is given a name: Adam.

I had the honor to catch up with this busy guy and ask him a few questions about Depraved and what he is up to next. I hope you enjoy the interview. Look for this film to be out in select theaters starting September 13th, 2019.

Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Thanks so much for talking to me Larry. I loved Depraved! What made you decide to make yet another reimagining of Frankenstein?

Larry Fessenden: I have always loved the Frankenstein story and was deeply affected by all the old Universal movies that feature the monster. But I also wanted to tell a version that was more personal, from the monster’s point of view in a contemporary setting.

LAZG: Why do you think that the Frankenstein story has been such a classic all these years and continues to fascinate audiences?

LF: The story hits on four basic enduring themes: The human hubris of a scientist-defying God; The fear of losing control over something you have created; The fear of the “other,” be it deformed or brutish and; The loneliness of being a monster.

LAZG: Why did you decide to make the film from the monster’s point of view? (That was brilliant, BTW)

LF: I am very interested in subjectivity, how every individual has a unique experience. I approach horror tropes with the question. “What would it really be like?” I had read a book called “My Stroke of Insight” (Jill Bolte Taylor) about a woman who had had a stroke. And it got me thinking about the brain as the source of our identity. All these influences converged in my approach to the classic tale.

LAZG: At the film fest, I heard quite a few people refer to Adam as the “hottest” Frankenstein monster they had ever seen! Did you make a conscious decision to make the monster an attractive person who could walk the streets and not have people immediately run away from him?

LF: Yes, I asked Alex Breaux the actor to work out in order to articulate his physic. I wanted to draw attention to basic idea inherent in the story of a man made out of body parts by showing him nude and svelte like an alien creature. I wanted a repulsion / attraction from the audience. I cannot define any one thing I was going for, but I was after several aspects at once in the monster.

LAZG: I know that Depraved was truly a low-budget indie film. But when watching it, it certainly doesn’t look low budget! How were you able to get the film to look so high quality?

LF: I believe that with careful planning and the assembling of a smart, like-minded team, you can produce results beyond the budget. That is the mantra at Glass Eye Pix.

LAZG: How long did you take to shoot it? Were you in New York?

 I think we shot 24 days. We shot the film in New York, mostly in a walk-up studio on the second floor in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

LAZG: This film is about loneliness, relationships, alienation, and what we learn from other people for starters, correct? Can you talk about that? Is there another theme in it I didn’t mention?

LF: Those are the themes for sure. And the theme of parenting is in there. And how we treat our vets. And how capitalism corrupts, and how cynicism is toxic. And it’s about the brain and memory. There are a lot of ideas in there, along with the main themes.

LAZG: Adam starts out so innocent, but just like a toddler, wants what others around him have. Is this a case of Nature vs Nurture? Henry refers to himself at one point, as a bad parent.

LF: It’s about Nature vs Nurture in the sense that it asks what is innate in a person and what comes about from the influence of others. Because we know who Adam was before he was created, we are aware that traits like being good at racket sports and scratching your head when you are nervous translate to the next body. That’s “Nature”. But Adam’s corruption comes from the vibes he’s getting from those who are “nurturing” him. Anyway, that’s how it plays in the film. A lofty topic like Nature Nurture cannot be settled in a fiction film; the idea is to raise these themes and stimulate further thought.

LAZG: You showed us the bad side, or the depravity as it were, and the good side of humanity. I think most viewers will empathize with both Henry and Adam, and that’s pretty cool. How did you accomplish that?

LF: I mostly just thought about what would make a person make a man out of body parts in a Brooklyn loft. And I thought about a surgeon from all the unjust wars we’ve been fighting in the Mideast. And I thought that might be where a Mad Doctor might come from nowadays. I felt like Henry was a victim of sorts, trying to do the right thing, but very deluded. And then his asshole friend takes advantage of his brilliance and vulnerability and poisons the impulse for good in this misguided experiment.

LAZG: The colors that showed thoughts and emotions were amazing. It’s the kind of thing you see when you close your eyes at night. What did you want the audience to understand from that?

LF: I like that you mention that. I’m just like a kid. When I close my eyes, I try to see what those shapes and colors are. I felt like you never see that in movies. In fact, no one ever talks about that. They are called Phosphenes. It was fun researching all that stuff, stuff about the brain and perception. It’s not all in the film literally. But it influenced my thinking and the imagery that resulted.

LAZG: If Henry had such bad PTSD, why would he want to bring something so wrong into the world? Was it because of what he did while in the military? It’s obvious he came back a different and damaged person after the war.

LF: I think if you have PTSD, you aren’t seeing the world correctly anymore. Henry is making bad choices; emotional and erratic choices. I think he came back from the war with intense guilt that he couldn’t save everyone on the battlefield. He has almost a Christ complex thinking he can fix everything by cheating death — standard Frankenstein-story logic, but with a contemporary context.

LAZG: As a contemporary tale with cellphones and pharmaceuticals, what was the message about our culture that you wanted to share with the audience?

LF: Well, I didn’t have a checklist. There were just things I wanted to explore about the problems in modern life that all seem connected in some way. We have surrendered our spiritual and tactile lives to technology in the name of convenience.

LAZG: We are left wondering what happens to Adam as he runs off into the park. It was such a sad moment. Could there be a sequel to answer that question?

LF: I have a sequel in mind. In fact, I have a television series in mind. But I doubt I’d get the funding.

LAZG: A sequel would be fantastic, as would a TV series!!! I hope it happens, Larry! Where and when will people be able to see Depraved? DVD/Blu-ray, VOD, Digital?

LF: DEPRAVED comes to select theaters on September 13. VOD and Blu-ray to follow!

LAZG: What’s coming up next for you?

LF: I’m producing a few things right now. Then I hope to direct again soon. I’m writing and scheming.

Read Full interview HERE

June 13, 2019
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THE DEAD DON’T DIE opens today

‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Review: Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan apocalypse

It’s funny to see an esoteric “I-don’t-care-what-you-think” filmmaker like Jim Jarmusch get a critical drubbing in the aftermath of him arguably returning to form. When his latest project, the zombie film The Dead Don’t Die, premiered at Cannes in May, people, perhaps, were expecting something more along the lines of his recent output — the dark, cool depth of Only Lovers Left Alive or the understated beauty of Paterson — and inevitably, what followed would defy expectation as much as Jarmusch’s turn towards the populist did years ago.

The Dead Don’t Die is shaggy as fuck, a deadpan zombie comedy that finds Jarmusch exploring things that he finds funny, perhaps to the detriment of what the audience might find amusing, but buried underneath it all is a cutting, painful bitterness about the end of both the genre and the world itself. In a way, you could call it The Last Zombie Film, though, much like the ghouls at its heart, it won’t stop coming back no matter how many times you pump it full of lead.

Boasting a cast billed as “the greatest ever… disassembled,” Jarmusch takes us inside the town of Centerville, an average ho-hum American town outfitted with the full tableau of the director’s wondrous losers. There’s Chief Cliff Robinson (Bill Murray), whose laconic vibes mesh well with that of his co-workers, the stolid doom-sayer Ronnie (Adam Driver) and the sensitive Mindy (Chloe Sevigny). There’s Hank (Danny Glover), the hardware store owner, who often shares conversation over a cup of coffee with Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) at the local diner, despite the latter’s “Keep America White Again” hat. There’s Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones), the horror-loving gas station attendant who asks Dean (RZA), a spiritual mailman, for nuggets of wisdom alongside his packages; and Danny (Larry Fessenden), the motel owner who keeps close watch on three visiting “hipsters,” among them Zoe (Selena Gomez), who has a rad ol’ car.

Spying on all of them from the cover of the woods — and providing the film with its key narration — is Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), who Cliff went to high school with and then spirited off into the forest to live in perfect isolation, in touch with nature. Bob kicks off the movie by taking pot shots at Cliff and Ronnie when they come out to see if he’s stolen one of Farmer Miller’s chickens, and, after that encounter, the three characters, having gone their separate ways, realize that something a little weird is occurring.

The days are growing longer, for whatever reason; odd plants are growing in the woods, and the birds themselves seem to be fleeing some oncoming disaster. The townspeople take this into account, and begin to suspect something involving “polar fracking” occurring thousands of miles away, but there’s not really much they can do. And, after all, the government is telling them that it’s fine, and won’t harm anything. Yet, late that (long) night, a pair of rotting corpses (Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, Jarmusch’s longtime producer) rise from their graves and attack the local diner, killing the owner (Eszter Balint, re-teaming with Jarmusch after 30-plus years since Stranger Than Paradise) and the janitor (Rosal Colon) in the process of acquiring hot and fresh coffee.

Yes, that’s right: The zombies in this movie are attracted to the things that they used to love when they were living, and see their favorite things out after they’ve consumed some flesh. Arriving on the scene in his SmartCar, Ronnie quickly deduces that the attack was committed by the undead, and the trio of officers begin to prepare the town for the inevitable. Sure enough, it happens soon: Oddball mortician Zelda (a scene-stealing Tilda Swinton), who also happens to be a katana-wielding Scot, discovers that her corpses are coming back to life, and a corpse (Carol fuckin’ Kane) being kept in a jail cell reanimates and scares the hell out of the officers. It’s the end of the world, and, as Ronnie fears, it’ll all end badly for our cast of characters.

So, this isn’t Zombieland, and if you really want something in that vein, I highly recommend you save your pennies for the sequel that’s coming later this year. A lot of The Dead Don’t Die concerns things that Jarmusch himself would find funny, rather than things he thinks you, the audience member, might find humorous, and that approach — in that he’s trying to make himself laugh, and if you do it’s just a happy coincidence — feels deliberately tuned towards alienation. A good example of that might be the constant labelling of Gomez’s traveling pals as “hipsters” by the police officers and the motel owner, which reflects a sort of dissatisfaction on Jarmusch’s part with how he’s been treated in the press over the years.

Driver’s given the meat of the film’s jokes, as the man has never met a deadpan line that he can’t sell like hell, and it’s astonishing how much milage he gets out of the film’s two real recurring jokes (there’s also a great Star Wars gag in here as well, and I hope to get a GIF of his reaction to it as soon as I possibly can). One’s about the film’s theme song, which was penned and performed by alt-country virtuoso Sturgill Simpson, and the other is, as mentioned above, his quiet predictions of the horrors that await them, which pays off in a way that will piss people off, though I found it hilarious. Swinton’s deep commitment to her odd character is delightful as well, and Sevigny is, not-so-secretly, the heart of the film, as she brings a much needed emotional perspective to the film’s ironic distance. Her scenes with Murray are oddly affecting bits of honest sadness that have a shelf-life especially crafted for the dark days ahead.

But as the film reaches its conclusion, the more metaphor starts weighing down the film, and when, over the film’s final shots, Jarmusch has Waits explain exactly the point he’s trying to make, it feels a bit like the end of Burn After Reading, where JK Simmons demands to know what we’ve learned from our experience. It’s an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise interesting film, where there’s so much to chew on from the moment-to-moment substance of the film itself that one honestly might have benefitted from a more vague reading of events. But those pieces stand in opposition to Waits’ hasty thesis, and the perfunctory ending doesn’t stop it from being effective. The Dead Don’t Die is, in essence, about the collapse of all narrative in-and-of itself in the face of nihilistic extinction, where “reality” and “genre” are forced to collide in a way that ultimately undoes the both of them (see the constant collapse of the fourth wall, or the metafictional jokes that pepper Driver’s dialogue).

There are no happy endings here — no helicopters coming to the mall’s roof to be found, no military intervention outside the Winchester will happen — and ultimately, it feels more in line with Romero’s original creation than a lot of the films in Night’s wake. There’s just the collapse of everything we’ve worked so hard as a species to make — community, friendships, lives, an agreed-upon reality — and the environment, our one wondrous gift from the cosmos that we’re slowly obliterating in the pursuit of our in-the-moment needs.

The Dead Don’t Die is a hard film to recommend to zombie fans, or even fans of the director’s previous forays into the world of genre, given just how dedicated Jarmusch is to burning the very crowd that would turn out for it, but it may be of its moment in more than many have given it credit for.

from Vanyaland

June 13, 2019
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Talkhouse Podcast: Father’s Day Edition featuring Jack Fessenden and Padre

From Talkhouse: The great horror director, producer and actor Larry Fessenden (The Last WinterHabit) also brought his kid up in his chosen craft. Jack Fessenden, who’s still a teenager, has already directed one feature, Stray Bullets, and is in pre-production for his next. The two sat down to chop it up on the highs and lows of coming up in a cinematic family, why Larry likes to mentor young people, and the reason Jack hasn’t seen many of his dad’s films.

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