Edinburgh Film Festival reviews: The Dead Don’t Die | The Art of Self-Defence | Memory: The Origins of Alien

The wags who saw Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die at Cannes may have already staked their claim on the George Romero puns – take your pick from Night of the Living Deadpan, Dawn of the Deadpan, Day of the Deadpan – but it makes sense that the eternal hipster of American cinema would make a zombie apocalypse movie. The laconic nature of his films is a natural fit for a sub-genre built around hordes of shuffling flesh-eaters and having already flirted with horror tropes in his arch vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive he further deconstructs the genre (and his own career) with this drolly self-reflexive, fourth-wall-breaking comedy about a sleepy small town called Centerville that comes under siege from the walking dead after something called “polar fracking” throws the Earth off its axis.

Bill Murray and Adam Driver are local cops in The Dead Dont Die, which also features Iggy Pop and Tilda Swinton
Bill Murray and Adam Driver are local cops in The Dead Dont Die, which also features Iggy Pop and Tilda Swinton

The Dead Don’t Die ****

The Art of Self-Defence ***

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Memory: The Origins of Alien ****

As the local cops bemused to find themselves dealing with the end of the world, Bill Murray and Adam Driver feel like sly surrogates for a filmmaker now operating in a world that’s far weirder than anything he’s ever created and Jarmusch rolls with the strangeness by taking potshots at Trump and hipster millennials and upping the oddball quotient considerably by casting Iggy Pop as a coffee-loving zombie and Tilda Swinton as a Scottish samurai mortician.

Continuing the strange vibes is the 1990s-set The Art of Self-Defence. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as an effete accountant who signs up for karate lessons after being mugged, it may come on like an insufferably twee thought experiment designed to see what The Karate Kid might look like if Wes Anderson remade it, but it soon plunges down a much darker, more violent rabbit hole the closer Eisenberg’s character becomes to his mysterious dojo master (Alessandro Nivola). It’s hard to tell if the tonal inconsistencies are deliberate, but writer/director Riley Stearns certainly makes the most of them: the end result is intriguingly off-kilter.

It’s 40 years since Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien helped transform modern movies. In Memory: The Origins of Alien director Alexandre O Philippe (The People vs George Lucas) delivers a fantastically comprehensive deep-dive into the many sources that Scott, original screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and conceptual artist HR Giger drew on in order to illuminate why it had such an impact. What the film comes up with is manna from heaven for aficionados; the trenchant analysis had even this Alien nerd looking at the film in a new light. - ALISTAIR HARKNESS

For tickets and screening times see edfilmfest.org