She Dies Tomorrow Review

(The SXSW Film Festival may have been cancelled, but our coverage will go on with reviews of films and TV shows made available to our critics.)

When writer and director Amy Seimetz conceptualized She Dies Tomorrow, I doubt anyone channeled Coronavirus premonitions – and yet, current events prevail. Life imitating art, art imitating life as the prophecies foretell. Her unconventional outbreak thriller absorbs urgency amidst 2020’s ongoing worldwide pandemic, spotlighting an all-too-relevant viral subplot. No, don’t expect some indie rehash of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Instead, bear the weight of humanity’s numbing disease as Seimetz challenges our mortal value by weaponizing its historical antithesis: death. Freeing, paralyzing, and most of all, inescapable.

Kate Lyn Sheil stars as Amy. She’s going to die tomorrow. Amy can’t prove it, but she’s insistent. When friend Jane (Jane Adams) arrives, an intoxicated Amy strives to make the non-believer understand. Unfortunately, Jane only sees an alcoholic relapsing so she leaves – except Amy’s words linger onward. Worse yet, now Jane is convinced that she’ll also die tomorrow. Homebody Jane flees to brother Jason’s (Chris Messina) house, where he’s throwing a birthday party for wife Susan (Katie Aselton). More grim babbling, more people now mumbling they’ll die tomorrow. So on, so forth, the “infection” spreads.

She Dies Tomorrow doesn’t open with a nuclear burst of excitement. As with artful horrors akin to Coherence or Resolution, Seimetz’s narrative is a methodical build. We’re introduced to Amy as a character long before her “affliction” is wholly established. Maybe a free spirit, maybe a Californian angel on ‘shrooms, maybe just another caricatured weirdo leading indie cinema’s next talk-in-circles rumination on man’s pitiful existence. Hesitation around mumblecore genre pacing built inside this critic as the film’s first five or so minutes unfolded, ultimately erased by Seimetz’s superior and endlessly provocative soul-searching.

With death only hours away, “marked ones” are stripped of their moral compulsion to obey societal constructs. Pleasantries traded for bluntness, daydreams forced into reality. The not-so-subtle messaging of time wasted and our mindful connection to the universe is poetic, macabre, and thoughtfully expressive. When Susan, for example, still presumes she has decades to experience, her conversations revolve around mindlessness such as “dolphin fucking.” Once convinced she’s dying tomorrow, a wave of compulsive admission washes over as those throwaway dialogues become precious time wasted.

It’s an immaculately clever cinematic device that allows Seimetz to abandon convention and speak her mind, but also envelop mystery in a thick coating of existential devastation. As Amy and others are “implanted” with their doomsday bug, actors stare off camera while reds, blues, and other color filtration saturates center-framed portraits. I mention Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Resolution (both serve as producers, alongside professional cohort Dave Lawson Jr.) because Seimetz evokes the same alarming ambiguity as we’re left with only each character’s incoherent-to-absurd rants. Tangibility is forgone, coaxing the universe’s unpredictability in a way that begs if it even matters whether these people are right or not. Ideology speaks louder than visible alien or paranormal threats. Passion and paranoia both poured from a restless heart.

When Seimetz’s characters face an inevitable countdown clock, quirks and smiles swap for cutting, often hilarious admissions of…guilt? Not really remorse. Situations where procrastination once meant something less harmless, but death is like a get out of jail free card. Amy doesn’t spend her hours crying, inconsolable over the next day’s six-feet-under activities. She gets out there, books a night with Dune Buggy Man (Adam Wingard), and drives a goshdang dune buggy. Jane dashes to her family after (selfishly) neglecting them for her microbiology photography artwork. Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim) address their relationship head-on instead of retreading exhaustive waters. There’s empowerment to Seimetz granting her subjects the ability to live openly for mere hours, and yet, there’s also underlying darkness.

Performers all ensure that Seimetz’s screenplay doesn’t fall apart, as their confusion and mania leads audiences into their upended world. Kate Lyn Sheil’s specialty is floating almost pixie-like based on her acceptance of passing over, while someone like Jane Adams becomes an anxious, skittish mess. From Chris Messina’s blank stares to Katie Aselton’s aggression to Adam Windgard’s inability to experience carnal pleasures while the Grim Reaper calls, reactions are varied with intrigue. Whether they’re rightfully scared or waxing insanity, we’re hooked nonetheless. Thrown into a plot less ordinary with commitment unmatched.

Scenery finds functionality, down to floorboards that once existed as Mother Nature’s forestation. Why live, die and be buried when you can live, die, and be repurposed? As souls explore their bucket list items before croak time, trespassing and violence aren’t out of the question. Seimetz’s grasp on beauty and tragedy is reaffirmed lyricism, from Mozart crescendoing in the background to the simplest of conversations packing an immense punch. Maybe someday I’ll take cue and my editors will rejoice, but for now I’ll just revel in how She Dies Tomorrow embraces such a minimalist approach to gargantuan storytelling. Bizarre, fantastical, and precise despite feeling like hallucinogenic beat poetry with morbid appreciations.

Amy Seimetz plays by her own rules like this is the last film she’ll ever make (it won’t be, no shot). She Dies Tomorrow ponders self-fulfillment with agency and riveting execution. Seimetz’s fearlessness is what sells every ounce of this uncontrollable narrative’s every zig and zag. From tone to philosophy to composition, this is Seimetz’s soul on celluloid. In an industry where it’s easy for productions to become churned-out copies of whatever’s en vogue, oh how refreshing it is to watch filmmakers command their voice without interference. 

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).