City Paper is not for tourists
What would you do if you knew the end was imminent? Not the end for everyone, but you specifically. Would you throw a big party? Would you shut down emotionally, unable to grasp the enormity of it? Or would you finally do that one thing you’ve been putting off for years? It is to Amy Seimetz’s credit that her new film She Dies Tomorrow mostly sidesteps this hypothetical inquiry. Her film is too strange and unsettling for that. Although it is astute and curious about death in a way that few films achieve, it is never too grim. By jumping from genre to genre, there is genuine uncertainty in how the story will unfold.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) believes she will die tomorrow. There is no reason for this, nor any explanation of why she is suddenly so convinced of her imminent demise. Like the absurdist films you might expect from Luis Buñuel, it’s simply her truth. Amy handles it like you might expect: She opens a bottle of wine, withdraws, and listens to Mozart’s “Requiem” on repeat. Seimetz does not rush over this stretch of the film, and minutes pass without advancing any plot. This is not boring, however, because Sheil’s performance is so strange and Seimetz forces us to consider the state of her hero.
The story kicks into gear when Amy’s friend Jane (Jane Adams) pays her a visit. Jane is worried, and Amy makes no attempt to comfort her. After Jane leaves in a huff, she also comes to believe she will die tomorrow. Amy’s idea is contagious, and Jane spreads it when she attends her sister-in-law’s birthday party. No one handles this realization in quite the same way, and part of the film’s power is how every reaction has an edge of uncomfortable realism.
Instead of following the pandemic-like spread of this idea, She Dies Tomorrow sticks with only a few characters. Seimetz intuits that the worldwide spread is not as arresting or specific as this core group of 30- and 40-somethings. This is where the film exists uneasily between drama and horror: There are lengthy scenes where the characters, downtrodden and hopeless, speak in hushed tones of panic. Then there are hallucinatory sequences of harsh light, a visual representation of how their mental states shift into something more dire.
Unmoored by ordinary behavior and the usual genre trappings, the film suggests these characters somehow have free will. One scene is disturbing, while the next veers to absurdist black comedy. A key moment is an eerie echo of Palm Springs—disturbed people considering oblivion while relaxing beside a pool. You never quite know what you’re getting because these characters, in one moment after another, keep surprising themselves.
Many of the actors only have a handful of lines, but they make the most of them. Sheil has an ethereal presence, like an angel of death, while Jane is relatable and rational (her response to thinking she’ll die is driving herself to the hospital). One subplot involves Tilly (Jennifer Kim) and Brian (TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe), who use their impending doom as an opportunity to air harsh truths about their relationship.
There is an easy temptation to connect every new film in 2020 to what living through this hellish year feels like. A film like this, that is so attuned to genre tropes, earns the comparison. At one point, Amy mutters to herself “I’m OK, I’m not OK,” a bit like, “She loves me, she loves me not.” That grim truth is 2020 in a nutshell, and whether or not we actually die tomorrow, it is both liberating and frightening to realize we could.
She Dies Tomorrow is available Friday on VOD.