Everyone experiences the haunted nights, when existential fear creeps in like an idiot in plain sight. The primordial terror, the prime human condition, stems from an unavoidable truth: We will all eventually die. Often we believe the tragic event will take place years, decades from now. But in reality, we could just as easily die tomorrow. Amy Seimetz’s personal, existential truth She Dies Tomorrow hits on this universal dread. Though many have described her therapeutic indie as the perfect quarantine film, the hypnotic She Dies Tomorrow also grapples with monotony, obsession, depression, and all things ending.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a new homeowner convinced she’ll perish tomorrow, opens the film. She fills most of her days softly rubbing her wood floors, observing how useful the material’s become after death. She craves the same sense of utility. Amy, in an eerie scene where her vinyl of Mozart’s “Requiem K.626 Lacrimosa” repeatedly loops, searches online for urns, and methods of turning herself into a leather coat. The camera serves as a Kubrikian presence akin to a godly omniscience in the film’s claustrophobic spaces. At times intimate and immersive, yet impenetrable, impressionistic color-blitzed close-ups saturate Amy’s suicidal longings into ghostly cries for help. Lyn Sheil, whose past credits include Brigsby Bear and House of Cards, fills every frame with a detached tone, adding to the indie’s anxiety.
When Amy seeks help from her friend Jane (Jane Adams), Jane pulls away from her suicidal companion in a scene that metaphorically asks, how one helps a person deemed helpless. Nevertheless, Jane becomes like Amy. Upon leaving, she’s struck by the same color blitz: an array of primary hues composed through Jay Keitel’s hypnotic cinematography that soaks the actor’s face. Both Amy and Jane struggle with their obsessions. Amy once used drugs — to the point of her friend believing she might have relapsed — and is also fresh off a tragic event involving her boyfriend Craig (Kentucker Audley). Jane spends much of her days in her basement, her eyes glued to a microscope, peering into liquid that on a molecular level looks like blood, and creates paintings out of these images. When struck by the same impending doom as Amy, she visits her brother Jason (Chris Messina) for the birthday party of his wife Susan (Katie Aselton).
Many have described She Dies Tomorrow as the perfect quarantine movie. Not just because of the abject loneliness Seimetz portrays, but the unknowable dangers of infecting others with your disease. Because in She Dies Tomorrow, suicidal dread is as contagious as the common cold. Amy infects Jane. Jane infects Jason and Susan. They contaminate their daughter, and then their party guests: the reclusive Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and his cheery girlfriend Tilly (Jennifer Kim). Their depressive states forces them to either stay inside, or risk spreading to others. For that matter, the set decoration within Jason and Susan’s home: on their walls hang a John Baldessari-inspired painting, Jane’s molecular works, and signs saying “You are alive” and “You are loved” — physically express how depressed synapses intake their environment.
With the morbidity of Seimetz’s script, also comes her wryly sense of humor. Adams and Adebimpe are particularly adept at their stoic deliveries. Their deadpan expressions deliver witty codas, like Jane calling Amy to inform her that she’s broken into her house. These comic pockets bury themselves around the deterministic quality of the film: What is fate and can our futures ever be avoided even if we know them? The narrative avoids any conclusion to these questions by way of ambiguity.
When we die, we are demolished from the human landscape: burned; buried; and repurposed. To judge She Dies Tomorrow as a personal work is unavoidable. In the end, Seimetz named the lead character after herself. But the indie excels beyond the region, the soil, the clime of the pandemic in America. Humans didn’t begin fearing death in March, nor the death of others, especially if such a perishing from the earth never touched our individual lives. The pandemic only exposed known truths. She Dies Tomorrow will remain a brilliant portrait of existential dread, long after the Covid has departed, long after we have gone.
Neon’s She Dies Tomorrow is now available on PVOD