Clever and unique, She Dies Tomorrow is a sometimes frustrating, but generally rewarding slow-burn of a film that showcases the talent of its writer-director Amy Seimetz, whose abstract tale packs a sardonic, biting punch in its best moments.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) has just bought a lovely and very large new house, an occasion one would think is worthy of celebration, but her mood is altogether more depressed. When she calls her friend Jane (Jane Adams) in an attempt to discuss it, her generally apathetic, sad responses convince Jane to go over and see what’s wrong. It becomes clear that Amy thinks that she will die the next day, an existential crisis that has consumed her totally and which, as Jane soon discovers, proves to be contagious.
This dread becomes all-consuming for those who end up affected by it, and previously well-adjusted people begin to unravel, so convinced are they by the coming of their impending doom. The film is at pains to sidestep any explanation for what causes this malaise, instead focusing on its effects and subtly hinting at some neon-drenched, abstract force that seems to have something to do with it all, but could also just be a subconscious manifestation of its effect. This vagueness is both alluring and frustrating.
At its best, the film’s fatalistic tone is the catalyst for some brilliantly constructed scenes, and there are a few laughs to be found too in the sheer ridiculousness of how convinced and resigned everyone is, and the bizarre behaviour their situation induces. Beyond the humour to be found in the darkness, there is a coldness to the way it approaches death. It seems the malaise brings with it mainly sullen resignation, and though there are other emotions visible in the characters’ faces, that sense of inevitability is evident on all of them as they realise what is to come.
While the ambiguity does make the film interesting, that sense of coldness can keep the viewer at arm’s length somewhat, making it a film that is hard to get fully engaged with once the clever ideas are identified. There is plenty here to admire though. Seimetz captures existential dread wonderfully, and her commitment to exploring it is what gives the film its edge, as fear of death and the futility of the struggle against it cling to every frame.
In her production notes, Seimetz states that the film’s central concept came from her own discussions of anxiety with those around her and how it can spread quickly, whether that’s personal anxiety or political anxiety. That sense of unease that is unquantifiable but feels like it sticks to the skin, that can be felt amongst a group of people even if nothing is said, is exactly the feeling the film elicits: a pervasive sense of grimness or melancholy. It may be hard to feel fully connected to it narratively, especially in its more experimental moments, but there’s plenty to appreciate about the atmosphere it creates and how Seimetz carries out her vision of what it is to feel dread on that scale, something that feels oddly prophetic considering how 2020 has turned out, adding another element to the film and giving it a timely edge.
She Dies Tomorrow might frustrate at times, but it is worth sticking with, even if only to see the full picture of what Seimetz intends to convey and admire the creativity with which she does so.
Dir: Amy Seimetz
Scr: Amy Seimetz
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe
Prd: Amy Seimetz, David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson
DOP: Jay Keitel
Music: Mondo Boys
Run time: 84 minutes
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents She Dies Tomorrow on Curzon Home Cinema and Digital Download 28 August