09 Aug REVIEW – ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ could be the most unexpectedly relevant film of 2020
Can an idea be just as contagious as the deadly virus the world is currently suffering through? That’s the startling question broached in writer/director Amy Seimetz‘s intoxicating and atmospheric horror She Dies Tomorrow that could be the most unexpectedly relevant film of 2020. By presenting a dazzling vision of a contagion of the mind, Seimetz has inadvertently tapped into the crippling anxiety many of us are feeling over what tomorrow will bring.
If tomorrow brought your certain death, how would you react? That’s precisely the follow-up question Seimetz ponders through a group of characters who all deal with this news in decidedly different ways. In a haunting portrait of how one thought can completely envelop not just one mind but several, She Dies Tomorrow offers an unsettling, disarming take on a style of film that holds an unplanned weight of pertinency in a COVID-19 environment.
Recovering alcoholic Amy (Kate Lyn Shiel) is settling into life in her newly-purchased bungalow when she suffers a debilitating panic attack that leaves her entirely convinced she’s going to die tomorrow. While dealing with the news of her impending demise, Amy meanders around the house, guzzling down wine, and repeatedly playing Mozart’s “Requiem K.626 Lacrimosa” on her record player.
When her close friend Jane (Jane Adams) drops by after a frantic call for support, she dismisses Amy’s deadly prophecy as little more than the result of a combination of too much booze and a broken heart, given Amy is still dealing with a recent breakup from her boyfriend Craig (Kentucker Audley). After Amy bizarrely talks of researching the concept of having her dead body turned into a leather coat, Jane reassures her everything will be fine and she’ll check in with her tomorrow.
But when Jane returns home, she too is inexplicably afflicted with the belief she has one day left to live. With the sudden need to share the news of her imminent mortality with anyone, a dishevelled and pyjama-clad Jane arrives at the home of her brother Jason (Chris Messina), who is hosting several friends for the birthday party of his wife Susan (Katie Aselton). While the party guests all dismiss Jane’s ramblings as utter nonsense, the contagion soon spreads to the entire group.
In a wise move, Seimetz refuses to disclose the origins or principles of the transmittable plague of existential dread, rather simply signifying its communicable transmission by a series of hypnotic flashing primary-coloured lights each victim unwittingly witnesses before the indeterminant virus takes hold. At its true core, She Dies Tomorrow is not inherently a film about contagion, but rather an exploration of how we all deal with our own forthcoming mortality in individual fashion.
We all live with the inescapable knowledge death is our inevitable fate, but there’s bliss in the ignorance of never knowing quite when that will be. By crafting a narrative that deals its characters their exact day of death, Seimetz delves deeply into the varying reactions each has with realising their time is up. Some fall into a dark depression, while others respond with anger and disbelief. Confessions are revealed and regret abounds over past mistakes or missed opportunities. But what’s truly fascinating is witnessing how several characters find the news rather cathartic, forcing them to take advantage of such a catalyst for hurried change.
With everything facing all of us lately, the notion of death potentially arriving sooner than we thought has been causing all manner of stress and fear around the globe. Between coronavirus, terrorism, mass shootings, natural disasters, and murder hornets (remember them?), the last few years have likely seen most of us consider the fact we could very easily die tomorrow. As Homer Simpson once bluntly stated, “Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow.” Once again, The Simpsons has been rather prophetic, and She Dies Tomorrow takes that very idea and runs with it.
By virtue of unfathomably ironic timing, it’s a film that arrives in a world in the grips of a deadly pandemic that’s also brought with it isolation, anxiety, and depression, making the themes of She Dies Tomorrow scarily relevant. Seimetz clearly didn’t intend to have her film stand as a metaphor for the current state of the world, but everything here hits harder by standing as a mirror to life in 2020. Seimetz set out to offer an intimate examination of human behaviour that highlights how accepting one’s mortality can actually be entirely liberating and strangely empowering and that’s ultimately what she’s delivered here.
Once dubbed “the Meryl Streep of the micro-budget film community,” Sheil delivers a captivating performance as the apparent patient zero of this potentially apocalyptic curse. Amy rarely seems uncomfortable with her impending demise and it allows the audience to be equally at ease with the bizarre world Seimetz has created for her protagonist. That’s entirely thanks to Sheil’s understated turn, with the actor almost floating through scenes like very the spectre of death herself. The ever-reliable Adams provides some much-needed levity to the film, with Seimetz wisely tapping into the actor’s deft talent for deadpan line delivery.
Constructed with the often hallucinatory cinematography of Jay Keitel, jarringly unsettling sound design from Mary Ellen Porto, and a foreboding score by Mondo Boys, it’s a visceral experience that’s beguiling and terrifying in equal measure. This is as experimental indie arthouse as cinema comes, although sometimes as its own detriment. The film is slightly damaged by a choppy pace and a meandering narrative that occasionally deviates too sharply off course, but never at the expense of losing your interest.
In an emotionally resonant and deeply personal work (she’s given the lead character her own name for a reason), Seimetz delivers an uncompromising vision of mortality to an audience already questioning their own fate. “There is no tomorrow for me,” states Amy, and those words will linger heavily in the ears of anyone feeling the weight of dread 2020 is forcing upon us. Much like the contagious idea Seimetz has crafted in her screenplay, She Dies Tomorrow is a film that will penetrate your mind and may just have you questioning what to make of the time we have left.
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Kentucker Audley, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim
Director: Amy Seimetz
Producers: Amy Seimetz, David Lawson, Jr., Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson
Screenplay: Amy Seimetz
Cinematography: Jay Keitel
Production Design: Ariel Vida
Music: Mondo Boys
Editing: Kate Brokaw
Running Time: 84 minutes
Release Date: 7th August 2020 (U.S.)