'Dead Don't Die' Ending Explained Spoilers: "This Is Not Going to End Well"
When Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie Peterson first says, “This is not going to end well.” early in The Dead Don’t Die, it’s not just a vague bad feeling he’s got about the growing zombie outbreak in rural Pennsylvania. Peterson has prescient knowledge about how this self-aware zombie film by Jim Jarmusch will end, but not even he knows about the huge twist that’s coming.
The weirdest part of The Dead Don’t Die’s ending has to do with a twist that feels ripped right out of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, the third film in the Cornetto Trilogy, to which it owes more than even Shaun of the Dead.
Full spoilers for Dead Don’t Die follow.
After polar fracking disrupts the Earth’s rotation on its axis, the entire world is literally and figuratively fracked (to use the Battlestar Galactica cuss word). Animals go crazy and daytime lasts many hours longer than it should, but the most bizarre side effect to humanity’s reckless consumption of fossil fuels is how some kind of cosmic radiation upturns the natural order of things by reanimating dead people.
This obviously affects the entire planet, but for the sake of The Dead Don’t Die, we get a hyper-focused look at a small town called Centerville in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania where there’s only one motel, one diner, and the police force tops out at three familiar faces: Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie Peterson, Chloë Sevigny’s Officer Mindy Morrison, and Bill Murray as Chief Cliff Robertson.
Officer Peterson almost immediately guesses zombies after two employees of the local diner are ripped to pieces, and he repeatedly comments throughout the movie how everything’s going to end badly for them all. Spoiler: He’s absolutely right.
Like everyone else in this small town, these three central characters are eventually killed by the flesh-eating reanimated corpses of their former neighbors, with one of the few human survivors being Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), a wacky loner who’s lived in the woods for years. When he watches Peterson and Robertson make a last stand in the town cemetery, and proclaims the entire world is fucked, it’s somehow the least weird part of The Dead Don’t Die’s ending.
Before this, when the three police officers wind up trapped inside their police cruiser in the cemetery, Officer Morrison snaps, unable to handle the stress, and surrenders herself to the hungry jaws of her undead grandmother nearby. RIP.
Chief Robertson freaks out and asks Officer Peterson how he knew that things weren’t going to end well. That’s when Adam Driver reveals that he’s read the entire script. Furious, Bill Murray complains that he was only given his own scenes. Neither of them break the fourth wall, but the scene is so intensely self-aware and bizarre that it feels almost like the “aim for the bushes” scene from The Other Guys.
Then, things get even weirder.
In The Dead Don’t Die, Tilda Swinton plays local mortician Zelda Winston, a woman with a Scottish accent who practices with her samurai sword in front of a golden Buddha statue in her free time. Her zombie-slaying skills feel otherworldly, and by the time we see her use technopathy powers to hack into a computer, transmitting strange runes out into the cosmos, it’s made clear that she’s some kind of alien. (Mortician is the perfect job for an alien to take when hiding out on Earth. Think of all the biological research!)
The biggest head-scratching moment of the entire movie happens when she arrives in the cemetery, swarming with zombies, and they part like the red sea just as a flying saucer swoops in to beam her up.
Was her alien race the cause of the cosmic radiation that reanimated dead humans around the planet? Or was her research posting on Earth merely a coincidence? We’ll never know, but this big alien twist feels reminiscent of the finale to The World’s End, when you learn an alien presence was the cause of all the strange phenomenon.
The Dead Don’t Die is in theaters now.