Review: In "She Dies Tomorrow", fear of death spreads like a plague
She Dies Tomorrow, written and directed by Amy Seimetz, begins as a kind of one-woman show. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil,) alone in her new house, seems to be having some kind of breakdown. She Google searches urns, lies on the floor caressing the wood, drinks copious amounts of alcohol, and dances to Mozart’s Requiem on repeat. Does she have some sort of mental illness? A substance problem? The latter possibility is enforced when her friend, Jane (an excellent Jane Adams,) arrives and accuses her of “relapsing.” This relapse doesn’t matter, Amy argues, for one pivotal reason: she believes without a doubt that she’s going to die tomorrow.
Jane waves this away as drunken nonsense and returns home. Soon, however, she too becomes fixated upon the notion that tomorrow will bring her death. When she goes to her brother’s house to attend his wife’s birthday party, she shares her belief with the guests. They, too, become increasingly paranoid, terrified that they will face their deaths tomorrow. They, in turn, infect others, as this plague of fear spreads. If this all sounds like doom and gloom, it is. And yet it isn’t. She Dies Tomorrow could be described as a horror film, but also as a black comedy. It flits from existential, to hilarious to oddly, deeply personal within minutes. Amy, for example, insists to Jane that she must become “useful” when she dies. She wants to be turned into a leather jacket.
The tonal whiplash that could come with such wild absurdism is fielded by Seimetz’s strong writing and talented cast. Despite being made on a small budget (Seimetz financed the film personally,) she has populated it with excellent and believable performers. From Sheil’s ethereal and existential mixture of gloom and mania (which we soon learn comes from a grief in the past, as well as her belief in a morbid future,) to Chris Messina’s wry exasperation as Jane’s brother, the actors work as wonderfully fine-tuned instruments to ensure that Seimetz’s film doesn’t often hit a wrong note.
An accomplished actor in her own right, it’s clear Seimetz knows exactly what to do when it comes to directing them. While we as the audience might not always know what’s going on in She Dies Tomorrow, we get the feeling that the actors always do. Seimetz’s script is air-tight and tantalizing. It feels as if many stories surround these characters, many of which we can only guess at. Information is doled out sparingly, and Seimetz leaves it up to the audience to connect the dots. Amy at first appears like an almost unreachable character in her strange behavior. But in flashback, we learn just enough about her to care, to understand a little, to want to know more.
At many junctures, the film’s subject matter of contagion, paranoia, and a dark certainty that death is just around the corner may remind you of the COVID-19 pandemic, though the film was finished before the disease reached the States. This almost coincidental topicality is something many reviewers have covered at great lengths. It must be made clear that, though COVID-19 has brought an extra layer of relatability to She Dies Tomorrow, to say Seimetz’s film only works because of our current circumstances as a nation is a disservice to her talents as a storyteller and filmmaker.
In many ways, She Dies Tomorrow still feels deeply personal. Seimetz has said that the film was based partly upon her struggles with anxiety. She has also stated that to her, it would be oddly comforting to “catch” somebody else’s fear, as happens in the film. To experience someone’s anxiety firsthand will, after all, lead to a greater understanding of it. Maybe that’s why, despite the dread and paranoia, watching She Dies Tomorrow felt so cathartic. The feelings Seimetz passes onto us are both disease and blessing, a gift and a curse.
She Dies Tomorrow is rated R. It is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, and Apple.