Cinema Review: She Dies Tomorrow | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020  

She Dies Tomorrow

Studio: NEON
Directed by Amy Seimetz

Aug 06, 2020 Web Exclusive
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All of us, at some point, must come to terms with the fact that everyone we have ever known will die, and that we ourselves will die. On an instinctive level we know this already; it’s what informs our aversions to the dark, or to sudden noises and creepy crawlies, but when that rational realisation crystallises, it’s hard to process. Death is too abstract a concept to truly comprehend, and so our fears instead seed into other aspects of our life, the areas where we can take control. In that way, grounded concerns distort into paranoia.

In her second feature, She Dies Tomorrow, director Amy Seimetz pins her characters between the mundane and the otherworldly, finding shades of disquiet and dark humour in the clash between casual dinner parties and existential fears. In an act of surreal serendipity, Seimetz reframes a fear of death as a semi-literal contagion, one in which the sceptical become the concerned become paranoid zealots themselves. Even with its artistic abstraction, the manner in which characters’ stances whiplash from one scene to the next feels remarkably pertinent given our current global climate.

For a film so concerned with the impacts of one person’s perception on another's, it’s fitting that She Dies Tomorrow opens on a tight close-up of a woman’s eye. If we’re to take the eyes as a window into the soul, this one suggests a soul in dire straits. Her iris is so full of tears it’s shimmering, while the smudged mascara around it suggests those tears have been pooling for quite some time, but it’s the luminescent lighting that shifts the tone from tragic to possessed— a rippling blend of rich reds and cosmic blues. Behind it all, a woman rambles about a nice period of time spent with an unseen figure. It sounds like a goodbye.

The eye’s owner, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) —if you’re going to have an author insert, why not make it completely obvious—is clearly not very well. She spends the opening act of the film roaming a house half-moved into; boxes piled up listlessly around furniture; a partially-wallpapered room with a ladder placed furtively in one corner. Amy’s only preoccupation seems to be stroking this sea of clutter, leaning into walls and floors and breathing deeply—that and poring over websites selling endlessly similar cremation urns and leather jackets. It’s only when her friend, Jane (Jane Adams), appears that we get a sense of what’s causing this mania, “I was thinking... I could be made into a leather jacket.”

In these opening scenes, Seimetz gives her audience very little to latch onto, instead establishing an atmosphere of pervasive dread and melancholy, even as the tone frequently tips into the darkly comic. What gradually becomes clear is that the title of the film, She Dies Tomorrow, doesn’t refer to an external threat, but rather an existential crisis. Amy is obsessed with the idea that she’s going to die tomorrow, but instead of living out some hedonistic bucket list, she’s reduced to mild stasis. Tomorrow—another abstracted concept based on the eternally shrinking horizon of the future—never comes, and so Amy crumples into a fatalistic slump.

It’s Jane that first catches the bug off Amy. While she initially spurns Amy’s requests to become “useful” in death by being turned into a leather jacket by a worksman in Denmark, hours later she’s suddenly reduced to her own mantric assertion that she will die tomorrow. Appearing next at her sister-in-law’s subdued birthday party in her even-more subdued pyjama attire, the fear then spreads over and over, hinting at the start of a pandemic of perspective. Expect it’s not accurate to simply call it a fear—in some sense it’s a knowing, albeit a fundamentally misguided one. There’s no outright terror, no wide-eyed running through the streets, just unnervingly apathetic acceptance. “There is no tomorrow for me,” says Amy coldly, as Jane leaves her house for the first time.

The aforementioned dappled neon lighting is Seimetz’ most striking aesthetic choice, reminiscent as it is of other cosmic horror films (Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy for one). As each character reaches their own realisation of impending doom, decidedly alien lights begin to play across their face, illustrating their inexplicable shift from sceptic to passive believer. It’s not just expressive lighting though—Seimetz ensures that each of level of craft in the film is imbued with her thematic concern. Particularly effective is her use of jarring jump cuts between mundane moments, a constant reminder of the oncoming loss facing the ever-expanding pool of infected, each cut itself a small death.

If you’re looking for concrete answers, you’ll be disappointed—they’re in suitably short supply. Instead Seimetz is focused on impressions, zeroing in on the myriad bizarre ways that people find to grieve themselves. Absurd normality and stilted horror clash over and over, with the unfounded but consuming delusions only becoming more and more unnerving as they snowball. That snowballing might leave certain characters feeling thin, but Seimetz is far more interested in evocation rather than explication. Whether it’s an analogy for the social weight of depression, the proliferation of harmful hearsay, or unspoken hang-ups, this is a remarkably idiosyncratic feature, and one that’ll stick in your memory for weeks after.

Author rating: 8/10

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