You would not expect Jim Jarmusch to make a horror film about zombies. Or The Cannes Festival, for that matter, to open the programme with the result. But that’s what happened this year, and the smart opening night audience seemed to like the result well enough. The critics, however, were a little more doubtful the next day, despite a cast which includes the ever-popular Bill Murray, and Chloe Sevigny, Danny Glover, Iggy Pop, Adam Driver and Steve Buscemi, to say nothing of Tom Waits. The scene is set in small-town America where Murray is the soon to retire as police chief and Driver is his young successor to be. A strange woman has arrived in town (Swinton) who has been engaged as the new coroner and who carries with her a large Scottish sword which she eventually uses as an instrument to cut off the zombies heads. At first, we find that something odd is happening in town since the light doesn’t go down in the evening, the clocks go funny and other strange goings-on appear. It is, says the local news channel, because the earth has tilted on its axis, possibly because of polar fracking. Yes, the film is political too, since Jarmusch loathes Trump and it shows. At one point, a diner at the local eatery (Buscemi) wears a hat with Make America white again on it, while every so often the film makes a joke of America’s present predicament. The zombies don’t arrive until halfway through the tale, coming up from their graves to eat half the cast and then get beheaded by the doughty coroner.
Obviously a pitch black comedy is intended, rather like a less hilarious Shaun of the Dead, and of course, John Carpenter’s oeuvre is also referenced. But one way and another the film is slowish and a bit piecemeal, with Murray unable to show his full range and people like Iggy Pop, who looks like a zombie anyway these days, have very little to do. The flailing swordswoman Swinton goes to it with a will in long blonde tresses and the zombies themselves are straight out of George Romero’s catalogue. But somehow the humour and thrills don’t quite fit together all that comfortably, as if Jarmusch was determined to do something a little different but didn’t quite know how to make a popular horror too. Enjoyable, yes, but not by any means as good as his lovely comedy Paterson, which was also shown at Cannes.