MIFF 68½ – She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

With her second feature-length movie She Dies Tomorrow, writer/director/producer Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience) has created an open-ended Rorschach blot of quiet existential horror.

The opening 15 minutes of the film are centred entirely on the isolation of Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) as she drifts through her day alone in the house, displaying glimpses of depression, aimlessness, alienation, disconnectedness. She browses the internet, listens intently to music, lies on her couch running her fingers limply across the floorboards. The camera keeps taking us into her space then snapping back out; bringing us closer to her face as she absorbs Mozart through her headphones, pressing closer as she pushes herself into the wall, then snapping back to view her at a distance from behind, from another room, as she pushes away from the wall and slumps out of sight into a chair, one leg remaining visible. Brief peak moments break through as sunlight overwhelms the image or all the sounds drop away except for the chirp of cicadas. It’s an extremely effective portrayal of internal life, recognisable yet alienating, impossible to fully comprehend.

When her friend Jane (Jane Adams) eventually enters the picture, concerned by the warning signs in an earlier phone call, she’s inclined to attribute Amy’s state to a relapse into alcoholism. Amy’s response that it’s not a relapse but she has been drinking could easily be the self-justification of an addict in denial, but Sheil plays the line convincingly as a statement of truth. The reason for Amy’s state is simply that she knows she is going to die tomorrow. Not for any medical reason, not because of a threat, nothing more than a sourceless straightforward unquestioning knowledge that she will die tomorrow.

Although Jane initially dismisses the possibility and returns home to work with her blood slides (her chosen medium of artistic expression), she finds herself suddenly afflicted by strobing coloured lights and an overwhelming realisation that she will also die tomorrow. Desperate for connection, she visits her brother’s family, some of whom react poorly to the crazy barefoot woman in her pyjamas, but after her departure they find themselves similarly afflicted and this same feeling spreads through everybody encountered in the course of the film. Each person reacts in a way unique to them, and while some explore their reactions as a couple the intensely internal nature of their experiences ensures that they remain isolated despite trying to connect. One couple whose relationship had effectively outlived its expiry date (being held together only by a dying father) spends the remainder of their time on screen abstractly dissecting the relationship’s failure, seeing out the experience together partly out of habit, partly because to do otherwise would be to abandon any remaining feeling of connection.

Amy Seimetz doesn’t offer any answers. She never explains exactly what is happening, why it’s happening, whether this shared experience of impending deaths acts like a communicable disease or whether that’s simply a coincidence. Her ending feels appropriate, but leaves any emotional or narrative resolution up to the viewer, and I understand that there are a large number of opinions as to what the “correct” interpretation (if there is such a thing) might be. Given the isolation at the core of the movie, forming a personal response seems far more important than accepting an imposed interpretation (and I was careful not to go looking for anybody else’s conclusions before writing this).

Kate Lyn Sheil (Equals) does an impressive job in bringing the viewer into the movie and her character’s experience. While she cedes the screen to others as the movie progresses, her past and present weave in and out of the story before we finally return to her. The strongest performance overall comes from Jane Adams (Twin Peaks: The Return), whose personal crisis takes a very different form but allows her a lot of room to demonstrate her versatility as an actress. Tunde Adebimpe (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Jennifer Kim (Mozart in the Jungle) provide a nuanced portrayal of a superficially healthy relationship as they slowly strip back the layers of self-deception. Olivia Taylor Dudley (The Magicians) and Michelle Rodriguez (Lost) also deserve note for their single-scene appearance near the end.

Finally I’d like to acknowledge Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson (The Endless), who are credited here as producers. I’m a huge fan of their work as writer/directors and am delighted to see that they are helping to support other filmmakers with a unique approach to making horror. I was impressed with Amy Seimetz’s achievement here and will be looking for her earlier movie Sun Don’t Shine (2012).

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