When it comes to death, there’s no way out or through it; death just is. It’s not the extreme dramatizations seen in movies nor the bleak, inhumane statistics churned out by the media, but death is simply a nonevent. Its own lack of emphasis on itself is anxiety-inducing for some and a source of total wonderment for others, but regardless of one’s outlook on it, death still comes to everyone. Even though death is a friend of few words, it is still the sole origin of countless aimless rambles and painfully in-depth discussions. The hazy mystique surrounding death and dying and its overall inaccessibility has inevitably led to questions that are unable to be answered and answers with no basis in concrete evidence. The tough reality that life is essentially a form of limbo for every individual person is terrifying, but regardless of death’s inescapable dissimilarities, Amy Seimetz knows how it ends for all of us.
In her new film She Dies Tomorrow, Seimetz mostly centers in on Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), an emotionally-vacant 20-something woman, and the small section of Los Angeles surrounding her new house. One day, Amy wakes up in a rental house in the desert and knows she’s going to die. After returning to her somewhat-renovated home, Amy invites her friend Jane (Jane Adams) over, and although unable to come over at first due to birthday dinner plans, Jane ends up going over out of concern for Amy. Jane ends up leaving soon after she mistakes Amy’s self-assured facts about death for drunken rambling, but her initial disbelief makes no difference: Jane soon understands she’s going to die too. Now that all hope about life is lost, Jane then decides it’s the perfect time to attend her birthday dinner plans. While at first met with confusion from her brother (Chris Messina) and resentment from his wife (Katie Aselton) when they hear about Jane’s irrefutable knowledge, the party guests accept their true fates as well: they’re all going to die tomorrow. Despite having this death-plagued camaraderie, there’s absolutely nothing these characters can do to comfort each other: the fundamental similarity bonding them together makes it virtually impossible for them to understand each other. It’s an incoherent and isolating, yet all-around mesmerizing bond to see.
Having death as the film’s core subject matter and as a binding theoretical “virus” that could essentially turn the film into a hallucinogenic adaptation of Contagion (2011) is an incredibly bold endeavor to take on, but Seimetz takes on this undertaking with great understanding. Despite the blunt title and the almost-urgent runtime of 84 minutes, She Dies Tomorrow never rushes the impending death looming over its characters heads, but it also never lets you forget about their eventual fates; the film is deliberate and contained like life itself. While beautifully reflected in Adams’ character Jane and her obsession with contained life under the neon light of a microscope, it still makes it impossible to not acknowledge how her over-analyzation and excessive wonderment could be eerily hinting at the presence of a higher power or towards the common behavior of venturing inside one’s own mind.
Seimetz utilizes this vagueness to her advantage and creates an engaging pace for the film by acknowledging manifestations of the existentialism and abstractness of death within normal behaviors. Most notably, one of the first things Amy decides to do with death-inspired solitude is to blast a Mondo Boys reworking of “Requiem K.626 Lacrimosa” on her stereo system and casually online shop for urns and leather jackets she could be made into. The personal relevance in Amy subconsciously moving the needle back to the beginning of the Lacrimosa record five times in a row and listening to the same melodramatic tune until it assimilates into her mind is something that can be so personal. Additionally, the intimacy within her grabbing a fistful of dead leaves in her backyard, pondering their use on this earth while desperately seeking her own, evokes such a universal emotion that forces the viewer to dig up the questions they have long repressed: Will I find true connection to this life? Will my life’s doings be worthwhile after I pass? Will my corpse meet a similar fate as those dead leaves or will my corpse be turned into a useful leather jacket as well?
While Seimetz has a real knack for luring deeply contemplative questions out of the viewer all while throwing in a few darkly comedic chuckles along the way, she also has an incredible way of displaying how her own introspective line of questioning deeply influences her work. Aside from the obvious naming of Sheil’s character and the filming taking place at her own house, Seimetz also makes her personal anxieties the sole focal point of the film. Conceived after the passing of her father, as well as many of her friends, in a world dominated by outrage politics and to-the-second news reports, She Dies Tomorrow manages to delve deep into the complexities of modern anxiety and vividly display dark sensations that have long been undescribed. The film, while centered on death, also doubles as a foreboding look into the contagious nature of anxiety and ideas, as well as the residual impact they have on the mind. Seimetz pins down these conceptual notions by means of alluring cinematography by Jay Keitel and unconventional editing from Kate Brokaw, which features hypnotizing neon lighting and editing that’s the cinematic equivalent of putting a period in the middle of a sentence.
However, this odd amalgamation of elements all feed off each other and help showcase the absurdity within the film’s script and performances. All throughout the film, simple dialogue that often rides the line between dark and dry comedy subjects the viewer to laugh in the face of certain death. It’s beautiful to see film almost completely remove the common element of crying when discussing death, and instead reinforce a “if you don’t laugh, you’ll die” mentality. The cast members of the film without a doubt embody this sentiment, which is apparent in their justified selfish behavior and overall vacant stares. Sheil and Adams specifically let themselves go with their subliminally nerve-wracking performances and off-putting comedic timing, which keep the viewers at their mercy for the duration of the film. While essentially devoid of any narrative structure, these apprehensive elements all beautifully mesh together in a fluid manner, ebbing and flowing in the comedic tides of unshakeable dread.
Ultimately, She Dies Tomorrow is a beautiful think-piece that dissects the effects and the precursors of anxiety, dread, and death. Its contained nature, much like the microscopic motifs lingering throughout the film, allow for a specific and bizarre venture into the unknown that somehow make the most indescribable emotions tangible. Seimetz truly bears her soul deep under the brash neon lights and operatic score deliberately dispersed throughout the film, and her unflinching approach when conveying profound ideas brings the viewer some much needed solace, despite the film containing virtually no catharsis. The film should not be comforting by any means, but with the seemingly never-ending days of staying inside that have caused a global mental shift towards introspection, She Dies Tomorrow surprisingly ends up understanding several current facets of our society and acknowledging the profound emptiness of life as we know it.
She Dies Tomorrow is now on Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player and Digital Download. Watch the trailer here: