Written and Directed by Amy Seimetz
Runtime 86 minutes
Starring: Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil)
Jane (Jane Adams)
Craig (Kentucker Audley)
Susan (Katie Aselton)
Jason (Chris Messina)
Brian (Tunde Adebimpe)
Tilly (Jennifer Kim)
Doc (Josh Lucas)
Sky (Michelle Rodriguez)
Dune Buggy Man (Adam Wingard)
The haunting and eclectic She Dies Tomorrow is the kind of mindfuck that will stick with you for a long time.
As written and directed by Amy Seimetz, the film’s insidious idea, that one woman’s certainty she is going to die tomorrow infects everyone she tells, creeps into your psyche like one of those Star Trek worms, crawling around your brain. The only problem is even if you get rid of the worm, the residue it leaves behind continues to fester.
The film opens with a close-up of a woman’s eye. She’s been crying and we hear her voice. We soon cut to a man raging around his house insisting he’s not crazy, but also saying things such as, “There’s no tomorrow.” We never get a clear look at him in a technique that’s repeated throughout the film as a way of giving voyeuristic distance from the proceedings. The problem is, you can’t escape the dread because it’s everywhere.
When we finally meet Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), the woman whose eye we saw, she’s waking up suddenly. The technique here lends a dream-like quality that will also be repeated throughout the film. (If this were Inception, we’d never know what level of dream we were on.)
Amy’s at the new home she’s moving into, but she’s moving through it like she’s in a dream or maybe a fugue state. She appears sad and distracted, and repeatedly listens to Mozart’s “Requiem,” which reinforces the mood. It’s another motif threaded throughout the film.
Amy’s friend, Jane (Jane Meadows), shows up to check on her. She realizes from all the empty bottles of wine that Amy has relapsed, and when Amy tells her it doesn’t matter because she’s going to die tomorrow, Jane thinks it’s the alcohol talking.
Soon, Jane is infected with the idea of impending death, and she in turn goes out to infect everyone in her path. It’s like The Ring, but the person isn’t intentionally passing the curse on to the next person; it’s the feeling of unshakeable inevitability that drives each infected person to continue talking about their upcoming death, which in turn burrows into the next person’s psyche until all they can talk about is their own mortality.
The total effect is one of inescapable anxiety. Each character has their own way of dealing with their last day one earth, whether it’s boozing up a storm (Amy), wandering between work and any place she thinks she can get help (Jane), or dissecting a crumbling relationship (Brian and Tilly, played by Tunde Adebimpe and Jennifer Kim, respectively). There’s also Jane’s brother, Jason (Chris Messina), and his wife, Susan (Katie Aselton), whose birthday party Jane ruins with her incessant conviction that she is going to die.
The films also goes back and forth in time as Amy reflects on recent events while she tries to pack in a lot of living in her final 24 hours.
Seimetz’s repetitive use of lava-lamp-like moving colors, Mozart, strobing lights, voyeurism, language, and Amy’s violent awakenings is masterful in how it creates existential angst and a sense of unreality. Jane’s repeating of “I know that I’m going to die tomorrow” also reminded me of the film Pontypool (2008), except here, there are no horror-movie zombies to worry about. Well, not the undead kind who eat you, anyway.
She Dies Tomorrow is the type of horror that slowly gets under the skin, but which provides no relief from the dread (save some of Tilly’s musings on her relationship with Brian). If it wasn’t made before COVID-19 was in full swing, I’d say it was a reaction to the pandemic, but I think there’s much more going on here; for one thing, a certain American president has been instilling anxiety into the world for nearly four years already; and for another, a fear of death is something ingrained in many of us.
The acting is top-notch, from Sheil’s almost ethereality to Adams’ slow crumbling. Keep an eye out for cameos from Michelle Rodriguez, Adam Wingard, and Josh Lucas. It’s one way to keep yourself from falling completely under Jane’s spell. Or Amy’s. Or Seimetz’s. I don’t know any more. I went to sleep thinking about the film and woke up thinking about the film. The film is science fiction, but the feeling of disquiet it produces is all too real.
I don’t think I’m going to die tomorrow, but to be honest, I’m not sure. No one really is. Or are they?
She Dies Tomorrow is now available on VOD services including Apple, Amazon, Google Play, and more.