If you love all things zombie, get ready because Selena Gomez is starring in a new film about them: Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die. Playing Zoe, a hipster with issues in the movie, Gomez is “obsessed with horror films” in real life.
“Growing up, my dad used to let me watch them just to scare me so he could laugh,” she said at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. “But eventually I became obsessed. I like everything from Zombieland to 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, and this Netflix series called Black Summer. I’m obsessed with zombies, for sure.”
She’s joined by Tilda Swinton as a crazed Scottish undertaker and Adam Driver and Bill Murray as hapless, slow-moving small-town cops battling the undead with a constant stream of deadpan jokes and a baseball bat.
The film opened the French Festival on Tuesday night and proved to be a surreal dive into the zombie comedy genre, featuring aliens, Iggy Pop as a coffee-obsessed corpse, and a level of nasty gore that makes The Walking Dead look like Sesame Street; it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s full of dark humor, like Shaun of the Dead or the Evil Dead trilogy, but the blood and guts stuff is definitely look-away gross.
The action kicks off with Murray and Driver’s Cliff and Ronnie in their cop car, cruising the town of Centerville. Cliff notices the sun is refusing to set and that Ronnie’s watch has stopped—something very weird is clearly going down. “This isn’t going to end well,” Ronnie says. Well spotted!
It turns out climate change has really, really messed things up. So much, in fact, that the undead start popping up from their graves. Apparently some “polar fracking” has tipped the planet over the edge, and the movie is full of this sort of social commentary on the state of our world. Aside from Gomez’s cheerfully oblivious hipster Zoe, there’s Steve Buscemi wearing a “Keep America White Again” cap, zombies moaning and groaning about wi-fi, and Tom Waits providing a doom-laden voiceover about capitalism. At the press conference, Jarmusch called it a take on our “culture of commodity fetishism,” which is “detrimental and kind of strange.”
Chloe Sevigny plays nervous jobsworth cop Mindy, and in reality is the opposite of Gomez when it comes to the scary stuff. “When I was small I saw The Exorcist and it terrified me,” she said. “I went to my priest, because I was raised Catholic, and I explained my fears to him and he said, ‘Yes, it’s true, and it usually happens to young girls, so don’t play ouija or practice witchcraft. You’re inviting the devil into your soul.’ I’ve been terrified ever since.”
Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat star as Zoe’s laid-back, good-time friends, Jack and Zach. The teenage trio are rolling through town on a road trip when they run into the rather inconvenient zombie apocalypse. Because the news is jammed with zombie warnings, Zoe, Jack, and Zach search for a motel. But, as any zombie aficionado knows, the undead can’t be stopped by a flimsy old motel door; chaos ensues.
One of the huge pleasures of this movie is enjoying the spectacle of so many celebs taking on countless monsters. Take the scene where Driver’s Ronnie goes on a zombie beheading rampage with his baseball bat—Murray’s Cliff mostly watches helpfully from the car—but eventually the situation gets seriously out of control. Cue a very nasty but funny scene for Gomez that’ll have you screaming. Sevigny’s Mindy makes a valiant effort to save the world by checking the police manual for a chapter on zombie handling; meanwhile, Tilda Swinton wildly swings a samurai sword around like she’s in Kill Bill.
The Dead Don’t Die plays with undead movie tropes, especially any expectations about what might happen to the good guys. The meta jokes come thick and fast—Cliff and Murray know they’re in a zombie movie after they hear a song on the radio—Sturgill Simpson’s theme song, “The Dead Don’t Die”—and they realize the tune is familiar “because it’s the theme song.” The silly throwaways are fun, too: RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan shows up as a “WuPS” delivery guy and Rosie Perez’s character is called Posie Juarez.
Gomez is great as the knowing yet upbeat Zoe, and Jarmusch said he was “honored” to have the chance to work with her. “Selena has been incredibly admirable in my consciousness,” he said. “Encouraging young people to have their own will and be strong people, and she is looked up to by so many young people because of her personality and her will and supportiveness. It’s really remarkable. She’s a remarkable person.”