She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

“I feel like you put the idea of dying in my head.”

After my first frustrated watch, I surmised in my notes that She Dies Tomorrow was, “80 minutes of Grad school emptiness.” That it felt like, “pilfered, performative, artsy crap.” I’m not sure what compelled me to give it another go, but I’m glad that I did, and I’m happy to say I was so blatantly wrong in my initial assessment. Here the minutiae matters. All the long shots of seemingly pointless activities might present themselves as pretentious, pointless attempts at passing time, and yet their purpose is to position the audience inside the story. To feel lonely, lost, listless. Of all the films I’ve seen this year, She Dies Tomorrow might be the most successful at forcing us to see the world as its characters do. It’s both haunting and deeply, frustratingly human.

In a move that feels more self-expressive than forcefully self-inclusive, writer/director Amy Seimetz’s film is led by none other than Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil). Hot off of a cold break-up, Amy is slowly convinced, as the title flat out states, that she’s going to die tomorrow. She languishes about during what she believes to be her final hours, looking up crematoriums and urns while staring down the barrel of the bottle, relapsing during her newfound appreciation – and equal anticipation – for the long sleep goodnight. Amy is so convinced and so literally drunk on the idea of her own demise that she’s able to convince other vulnerable souls. No one is immune to her infectious, intoxicating behavior. Not her introverted friend Jane (Jane Adams). Not her loyal brother Jason (Chris Messina) or her uncomfortable sister-in-law Susan (Katie Aselton). Not even Brian (Tunde Adebimpe), an unlucky party guest of the aforementioned who’s infected by Jane in a rather unpleasant birthday gathering. The tracing leads back to the same source.

Are they all actually sick? Is this illness viral, pathological, or perhaps a hybrid of the two? There’s no real or immediate answer to She Dies Tomorrow, although I do think there is an underlying explanation. The meaning and motives are never crystal clear via face value, but are rather colored and distorted by harsh reds and mysterious purple hues to distance the style and the people from ordinary existence. To separate reality from probable hysteria. And by exploiting the camera with the Kuleshov effect, Seimetz is able to – with the help of beautifully painful and expressionist faces – make us feel what they’re feeling not because of the performer’s emotions, but because of the shots that preface and bookend the most stagnant ones. Once you surrender to the style and method, She Dies Tomorrow becomes all the more undeniably engrossing. It is so maddeningly and sickeningly good.

So much of the film seems to take place in a temporary, hellish dreamscape. Where regret and ennui are able to metastasize, spreading from one person to the next with as much of a nod or a glance or a single spoken sentence. But with the final shot, the character Amy’s oblivion abruptly dissolves, and the rest of the technicolor, hypnotic picture abruptly becomes rooted in reality once more. Maybe she went on a bender and dreamed the events while passed out. Perhaps it really happened. Or maybe, just maybe, the whole thing is a metaphor for addiction, specifically Amy’s alcoholism. How it convinces you of false realities. How it affects those closest to you, and because of those rocky relationships, tends to have adverse effects on those you don’t even know. The final line quoted below, itself a troubling plea to be heard and understood, is less a realization than it is a final resolution. Amy could die tomorrow, and if she does, so will the pieces of her in others, and the pieces of those others found in even more distanced others. One life is capable of such incredible impact and outreach. She Dies Tomorrow, and she wakes up anew, molting her way out of contagion and towards another go at everyday existence. After all, we’re all works in process.

“I’m not okay.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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