Director: Amy Seimetz
Stars: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Michelle Rodriguez
One of the ultimate truisms and taboos in our society is that we’re all going to die. It’s a natural event; one of the few guaranteed experiences we will all encounter; yet bringing it up in conversation – as evidenced here in Amy Seimetz’s apocalyptic second feature – results in uncomfortable silences or outright hostility. You. Don’t. Do. It. And that’s understandable, too. It’s a scary prospect. But is it scary because the event itself is terrifying, or have we been conditioned our entire lives to believe that it must be? She Dies Tomorrow lives in the question. And then raises more.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is in a mire. She has become filled with the awareness that she only has one day left to live. A recovering addict, she lapses into drinking again, so sure is she that the end for her is nigh. At this point – why not? Telling her friend Jane (Jane Adams) about this starts a kind of daisy-chain awakening. Jane, who at first scoffs at and dismisses Amy’s rantings, comes to feel the same and, when she vocalises this at a party, everyone present soon shares the same eerie conviction, visualised by Seimetz as a cycling neon shimmer in the faces of her actors. Is this a new kind of virus (Jane likens the sensation to the onset of a cold)? Mass hysteria? Or is a cataclysm genuinely just around the corner?
And what would you do if you had that knowledge? Amy’s initial dithering and despair, her judicious contemplation of time and the contradiction of her repetitive actions, seem preoccupied with how to react. It’s galling new knowledge. It feels like a hesitant start on first approach, but in context it’s a deft observation of a person in a state of shock.
She Dies Tomorrow takes an insidious idea – about having an insidious idea – and gently crowbars it open. The pacing of the piece is fitting of the ‘mumblecore’ scene that Seimetz and Sheil are keenly connected to, but this spaciousness allows not only the characters to ingest their new knowledge, but for the viewer to ruminate on it’s manifold implications, too. I’ve often thought about how the sharing of a craven idea – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, for example – does, on some level, dare such fantasies to manifest. How many great dystopian works have invented the future through inspiration? That’s part of the notion Seimetz is dealing with here. If we all have a death wish, do we subconsciously conjure our own fates? Our own nightmares?
Amy’s alcoholism chimes into this in what comes to feel like an investigation into the self-destructive facets of being human. That strange urge to blow up your life. Seimetz indulges some enjoyably warped comedy. Amy decides, as she’s going to die, that she wants to be turned into a leather jacket, fleetingly connecting Seimetz’ film to more overtly horrific titles like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Silence of the Lambs. She Dies Tomorrow isn’t a horror movie in the conventional sense, but the case could be made. The appearance of Adam Wingard (another mumblecore mainstay but also a horror filmmaker) feels deliberate and knowing in this regard.
Seimetz’s film was written, produced and completed before the COVID-19 outbreak, but the theme of infection and contagion couldn’t feel more prescient, as if Seimetz herself unwrittingly caught a glimpse of our collective future and that notion spurred her into creating art. I’m not suggesting for a minute that she predicted a global pandemic, but the notion of unwitting foreknowledge is laced into the fabric of her picture.
Her filmmaking is quietly assured. Handsome low angles are recurrent. Dim empty rooms create pauses, suggest loaded brains. The hills of Los Angeles are cast in a seemingly perpetual gloom, contrasted only by the brightness of the occasional flashbacks that pock the narrative, breathing in not only warmth but context. What could’ve felt maudlin and depressing instead takes on the hazy quality of a night of epiphany. A growing sense of release. And, as intimated, it dares to be slyly funny. When Tilly (Jennifer Kim) confronts the resentments she holds in her relationship with Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) she whines that he didn’t even come to her birthday. With perfect dryness he responds, “My father had a stroke.” Elsewhere a bloody swimming pool reminds another character, Erin (Olivia Taylor Dudley), that her period has begun.
Erin appears late in this episodic tale, but she, along with her friend Sky (Michelle Rodriguez), seem to have already been affected by the sweeping knowledge of imminent death. Jane doesn’t have to ‘infect’ them; they’ve caught the bug already. And through these characters we also see another of the film’s main concerns; acceptance. The pervasiveness of an idea is potent. The normalising of the fundamentally abnormal. Brainwashing through ‘herd immunity’. These notions feel like loaded reflections on Trump’s America; currently proving itself to be one of the most grimly successful manifestations of a death wish in the world. Here’s to the new normal. Inevitability and death.