‘She Dies Tomorrow’ is a Confounding Mediation on the Spread of Fear

A still from 'She Dies Tomorrow'. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) stands in close up shrouded in blue light. She is staring directly at the camera, her face pale and her hair long, looking like she's in ecstasy and worried at the same time. Her mouth is slightly open as she takes in the feeling.
NEON

Amy Seimetz’ sophomore feature She Dies Tomorrow is certainly a film for our times. Racked with the same fear, doubt and paranoia that is sure to be circling most of our brains during this unprecedented year, Seimetz has delivered a film both relatable and unnerving— whether or not She Dies Tomorrow would have worked as well outside of the current sphere of COVID-19 and a looming US election is another matter entirely.

Seimetz plays with time, place and lighting to disorientate the viewer who is following the life of Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a recovering alcoholic who suffers a relapse and convinces herself wholeheartedly that she is going to die the next day. It might just be one of the simplest premises you’ll see this year, but the film circles around Amy and the friends she meets—and who those friends also go on to meet— as her wave of death fear plagues each household.

Amy first comes into contact with Jane (Jane Adams), her best friend, who comes to Amy’s new LA home to try and pull her out of a strange depressive episode that sees her chainsawing bushes down in a sparkly evening gown and drinking herself into a Mozart fuelled oblivion. Jane is quick to fall prey to Amy’s morbid tidings and moves on to a house party to see her brother Jason (Chris Messina), his wife Susan (Katie Aselton) and the other couple in attendance Tilly (Jennifer Kim) and Brian (Tunde Adebimpe), where the anxiety soon seeps through even the happiest of faces.

Jane Adams is so wonderful in her role, and honestly fetches more to the plate than leading character Amy manages to. Adams plays Jane with such an endearing sense of disorientation its difficult to peel your eyes away from her as she sends herself to the doctors in a pyjama-clad panic. Amy on the other hand just isn’t that engaging, she often feels hard to relate to because of how distant she is from reality and those around her. Sometimes it just never feels like the film goes far enough, ‘infected’ characters experience their own sense of reality breakdown and are shot beautifully with coloured lights framing their terrified faces as they come to the realisation of their own mortality, but those moments feel like they are building to a crescendo that never happens.

A still from 'She Dies Tomorrow'. Jane (Jane Adams) is  shown in close-up in a Doctors office, yet she is cradling the Doctor as if he has received some terrible news. Jane is staring forward with her piercing dark eyes and her greying hair is stuck to her forehead in a panicky sweat. She grips the back of the Doctor's head as she too looks scared.
NEON

Perhaps the understated nature of She Dies Tomorrow simply didn’t work for me personally (given the visual nature of the poster I was expecting something to the tune of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy) but others— especially those suffering with extreme anxiety— will find barrels of truth and realism in Amy’s circumstance.

Despite any personal gripes, Seimetz’ film is undoubtedly mature in its technical skills. The film is largely told in a series of purposefully disorientating vignettes about how each character deals with their existential dread from the extreme—Amy’s researching into craftsmen that will use her skin to make a leather jacket when she dies— to the more realistic— Jason and Susan spending the night sandwiching their daughter with a grip-tight cuddle. Due to its quite sporadic nature, the film teeters the very finely balanced line of tragedy and comedy, with some dark humour that really sets the film apart from its sombre drama roots.

At times subtly cosmic and outright depressing, She Dies Tomorrow is a minefield of existential worry surrounding our own mortality and ponders the question of ‘have you truly lived?’. On paper, it sounds like the exact antithesis of the type of film we might wish to see in our current climate, but it also wouldn’t be as effective at any other time. If August 2020 saw us all running around having a Hot Girl Summer, She Dies Tomorrow might be the most laborious and saddening pick for a summer’s evening, but during a time when leaving your home feels like you might get snatched by an invisible, lurking killer, Seimetz’ film couldn’t be more timely.

She Dies Tomorrow is playing at select US drive-in cinemas now and will be available on Digital in the US from August 7th. The UK can see it on Curzon Home Cinema and Digital Download from August 28th

by Chloe Leeson

Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here

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