Film

Review: Magnificently Strange She Dies Tomorrow Channels Contagious Distress and Collective Anxiety

This is one of the more difficult reviews I’ve had to write all year for the simple fact that writer/director Amy Seimetz’s (the prolific indie actor whose previous feature was Sun Don’t Shine) latest effort, She Dies Tomorrow, embodies so many different and fascinating topics and genres that it’s almost indescribable. So rather than attempt to interpret every possible meaning and theme (which I could do for days), I thought I’d talk a bit about the what moved me the most about this story of a woman who wakes up one morning convinced she’s going to die the next day.

She Dies Tomorrow

Image courtesy of Neon

Like the filmmaker, the woman at the center of this film is also named Amy (played brilliantly by frequent Seimetz collaborator Kate Lyn Sheil), and it becomes apparent early on that this overwhelming and all-consuming belief is not borne of anything specific. At first I thought Amy might be having a type of breakdown, but as the movie progresses and gives us brief flashbacks into her life just before the day she starts believing she’s going to die tomorrow, we realize that her boyfriend, Craig (Kentucker Audley), also recently had this feeling and somehow passed it onto her right as she’s getting settled into their new house. Desperate, Amy calls her best friend Jane (Jane Adams) and begs her to come over, and once she does, all Amy can really muster are the words “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

The film takes on some of the qualities of a horror film, especially when we realize these thoughts are being passed from person to person like a virus of the mind. Seimetz wisely never quite lets us know how, or even if, this death will take place. Are these thoughts suicidal? Is someone sensing their own future murder? Will they simply drop dead at some point? Or is there something supernatural at play? More importantly, what happens if they don’t die? Does the feeling go away? If you’re looking for clear-cut explanations, answers or conclusions, you’re in a for a deeply frustrating film-watching experience. But for me, not knowing these things increases the levels of absolute dread She Dies Tomorrow exudes in tidal waves.

What Seimetz’s work reminded me of are friends I have who have been diagnosed with some level of depression, who often shun friends for the stated reason that they’re afraid their condition might somehow rub off on others. That analogy doesn’t quite pan out for this film because not everybody in She Dies Tomorrow is depressed or even mildly saddened by the idea that their own death is imminent. In particular, when Jane arrives at the birthday party of her snooty sister-in-law (Katie Aselton), she’s fully submerged in the idea that she’ll be dying tomorrow and seems pretty cool with it. It’s clear that the two women don’t get along, and that Jane’s brother (Chris Messina) is often the peacekeeper, but Jane is in an almost euphoric state with her feelings of dying and seems slightly eager to alert the party to her feelings, as any good virus would have one do in its efforts to spread.

You can always tell when the contagion has taken hold in another person because their face is bathed in strobing colored lights, which are such a great, lo-fi, old-school science fiction trope that you can’t help but be amused, even as existential dread fills the victim’s eyes. It’s probably said too much these days, but She Dies Tomorrow should fit comfortably in the hearts and minds of today’s collective society, suffering from both very specific and free-floating anxieties. We’re absorbing the severely strained emotional vibes of those around us and becoming distraught as a result. Seimetz and her players (who also include Josh Lucas, Michelle Rodriguez, and director Adam Wingard, all in smaller roles) have all bought into the collective madness, and you can feel them tug on our own brains, inviting us to be one of them.

As much as the film follows the path of this virus, it never attempts to figure out where it began or what its nature is. We revisit Amy throughout her supposedly final hours, and getting to watch Sheil maneuver through Amy’s fragile state of mind is nothing short of miraculous. She’s somehow graceful and messy, and the actress reminds us what a gift she is to movies. Sheil should have gotten so much more notice for her groundbreaking role in Kate Plays Christine a couple years ago, but in She Dies Tomorrow, she brings her natural allure to the role in such a way that she makes us want to see her through this ordeal, no matter the outcome. The film is magnificently strange, utterly fulfilling, and just kooky enough to make a dent in the midnight movie arena, should such a place return to play it.

The film is now available on PVOD.

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