There’s an art to getting under someone’s skin with a piece of art. The kind of art that evokes emotion through its sheer existence and unwillingness to be anything but what it is. Over the years, audiences have come to expect certain things in film, universal truths and consistencies that accommodate their own viewing pleasure. With that, however, come filmmakers who want to shake things up – to remind audiences that film is more than just the three act structure with character payoffs. Sometimes it can be as simple as a nagging feel in the back of your mind, following you long after the credits have rolled. Amy Seimetz has crafted this very feeling with She Dies Tomorrow.
Film discourse has devolved largely into online arguments wherein circular arguments are had over the same 5 blockbusters and the same 50 social media posts on why highly successful films are actually “underrated”. Though over the past decade and moving into the current one, there have been bold, fresh voices emerging to shake up this status quo and inject that discomfort into film again. The real discourse, which happens with oneself in bed when it’s just you and your mind. While small in release and unlikely to generate blockbuster level discourse, Seimetz ensures her best that She Dies Tomorrow will instead sit with those who watch it for a long time.
This darkly funny psychological horror film stars an incredible Kate Lyn Sheil as Amy, a woman who after a disturbing encounter, believes that she is going to die tomorrow and whose fear begins to spread amongst a group of friends, acquaintances, and enemies. On its own, this is a hugely compelling story, with one having to take a step back and wonder well, what would you do if you were convinced you were going to die, but had no proof of it? Not a hunch, not a guess, or even intuition, but sheer knowing with certainty without any real cause. It’s as disturbing a premise and Seimetz plays it for all of the internal fear it would create, without ever veering too far outside of its decidedly more intimate scope.
This is helped again by Kate Lyn Sheil who gave a small but ultra disturbing turn in a personal favorite, The Comedy, and who amps up the discomfort here. She plays Amy in such a way that is both completely understated and compellingly operatic. It’s just remarkable. Same goes for both Jane Adams and Chris Messina, who are so quietly devastating in their roles and lock in the film’s central feeling of sheer disorientation and anxiety.
What is perhaps most riveting and equally perplexing about She Dies Tomorrow is that it’s filled with innumerable directorial choices that are so odd but so pointed and intentional, it’s something of a low-key masterclass of genre. It points to, again, the idea that film can and should be so much more than just a crowd pleasing spectacle and can evolve into something that could be really seen as quite the opposite – unnerving that audience, without ever resorting to cheap shock or offensiveness. Seimetz makes the rare film that both denies the audience their usual cinematic comforts, but never feels deliberately opaque or pretentious. It’s just the assured hand of a filmmaker in the zone, telling the exact story they want and need to tell.
In the year of COVID-19, there is a lot of talk about how cinema will deal with one of (if not) the defining crisis of our lifetimes. There are films already in production with absurd and tasteless plots centered around finding a cure, aliens, or whatever the f*ck else might be happening behind closed doors at studios all over the world. For my money though, She Dies Tomorrow is accidentally the perfect movie for 2020, depicting the viral contagion that is fear and what it feels like to be closed off from a world you thought you knew. It’s not an easy film in a time like this, but it’s an essential one that I will be mulling over perhaps for years to come.