Written and directed by Amy Seimetz, a woman’s conviction that she will die tomorrow spreads like a contagion through a town. Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim, Josh Lucas and Michelle Rodriguez.
It’s highly likely that you’ll be familiar with Amy Seimetz through her acting work in films like Pet Sematary, Alien: Covenant or You’re Next, having only previously directed one other feature, but it’s also extremely likely that after watching She Dies Tomorrow, you’ll be seeking out Sun Don’t Shine. It doesn’t take any time at all for this film to make an impression, its use of classical music, colour and sharp cuts is hugely atmospheric and has an almost mesmerising quality to it through how easily it draws you in. It’s contemplative and melancholy, feeling a touch reminiscent of von Trier, creating an intensity that isn’t in your face but instead is close to immersive by how much it pulls you in.
Seimetz’s direction has a wonderful personality to it, it throws a lot of sharp movement and unusual choices at you to force your perspective into different places, restricting it from ever feeling like it’s purely following its characters. It also tends to linger just slightly too long, again never choosing to be constantly on its characters or show them facing the camera too often, it genuinely plays with discomfort but only pushes it at just the right moments to feed into its larger story. Whereas some films such as this would have a palpable awkwardness to them through its strange story, the comedy element of the film means that it embraces its own oddity and instead just gives it a strong personality. Her use of colour and flashing light is certainly not subtle, it’s very clear in its intention and yet despite the overt nature, it still adds a great deal to its atmosphere. In those moments especially the direction works with the cinematography seamlessly to create almost uncomfortably close shots that pick at your curiosity and push for you to really think what might be going through their minds. Seimetz has worked with a variety of directors and that shows, in small part due to the cameo from Adam Wingard but mostly due to being able to feel the influences of different styles and she seems to have drawn from horror, indie drama and sci-fi and blended it into something new and different.
Not only is the direction strong but the writing is hugely enjoyable, it’s sharp and has a huge injection of wit which plays the comedy into the drama and sci-fi elements subtly but effectively. Its use of repetition mixed with a non-linear timeline works extremely well, it draws a rhythm to the pace that reveals events in a slow but satisfying manner. Those looking for a film where it all ends with a big reveal and no more unanswered questions will likely be fairly frustrated as this is certainly a film more about the journey than the final destination. In fact, the way in which it raises questions and makes you think is much more interesting than seeking a definitive resolution to where this infection, so to speak, came from and why. Of course, bringing susceptibility into the discussion, as well as personal reflection and relationships, just to speak to the most present but the whole atmosphere to it feels thoughtful and is one you could likely watch many times to unpack a lot more details.
There’s a very interesting mix of actors in this cast and while it’s fair to say that lead Sheil does get a large portion of the screen time, it genuinely does share plenty with its supporting cast to give them the opportunity to make an impact, which they all do. Sheil does a brilliant job as Amy, she doesn’t say that much and much of what she does it cryptic and vague yet there’s a charm to her character, a sympathy that comes from the sadness and almost grieving energy that the opening provides. Adams provides a wonderful supporting role to Sheil, her portrayal of Jane has much of an anxious energy to it, she gives off a kindness through the interactions with Amy and her brother Jason (Messina) that make you feel protective of her. Aselton, Messina, Audley, Kim and Adebimpe all provide different perspectives to the spreading of this fear, they all embrace it and bring out that emotion in a variety of ways that are all fascinating to watch. Rodriguez only pops up briefly with Olivia Taylor Dudley but their scene alongside Adams is surprisingly tranquil and adds even further to the reflective and contemplative tones of the film.
She Dies Tomorrow is an enigma wrapped in an intense, enticing package. Seimetz’s writing and direction are both impressive, the level of personality and style that she has captured is relatively rare, not a lot of filmmakers can give their features the mesmerising quality that’s achieved here. It’s a little bit funny, it’s very strange, it’s fascinating, it keeps you on your toes and never does it try to use cheap shock tactics or huge twists to pander to its audience, because it sincerely doesn’t need to. The palpable sadness and melancholy to it draw you in and you stay glued to it until the credits roll, its mystery may never truly reveal itself but the experience is no lesser because of that, it’s a brave choice to keep people guessing and Seimetz really pulls it off.