Review: ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ is resoundingly successfulAugust 7, 2020
There’s going to be a lot of talk about how eerily prescient She Dies Tomorrow is, given that it was shot before the pandemic and features a virus that makes people confront their mortality. But the film’s contagion is at an important remove from its real-life analogue. Unlike the coronavirus, there are no steps between contracting the disease and staring death in the eyes: the only symptom of She Dies Tomorrow’s virus is the unconditional belief that one is going to die the next day. If the film feels ready-made for this specific moment, it has less to do with COVID itself and more to do with the imperative of indefinite isolation. She Dies Tomorrow is about a singular despair—one Kierkegaard might’ve described as “quarantining the self from itself”.
From the onset, the film settles into a groove of not making its purposes clear. That doesn’t mean it’s incomprehensible—it’s not opaque so much as it’s crystalline, inviting your gaze but warping everything you see through it. It’s never quite right. We understand that Amy, our protagonist who shares her name with writer/director Amy Seimetz, is having a breakdown in a house that she just barely moved into. We understand that Amy’s friend Jane, portrayed by Amy Seimetz’ friend Jane Adams, is worried about her safety. We understand that there’s probably a hint of autobiography at play. But beyond that: why is Amy listening to Mozart’s Requiem over and over and over? Why is she drifting outside and clenching piles of soil in her fists? Why is she caressing the floorboards?
These might seem like your average breakdown antics, but Seimetz employs some formalist tricks to double down on the strangeness. Shots don’t transition; they collide. Scenes burst open with no visual or audial regard for what came before, jumping jarringly to new imagery and cutting off music like the pulling of a plug. Sight and sound work asynchronously, slow motion is used confoundingly, primary colors blare inexplicably and with a ferocity deserving of a seizure warning. Amid this stylistic spasm, oddities that were once dormant are underscored by the surrounding atmosphere: the vacuity of Amy’s near-empty house. Subliminal flashes of past (or future?) events. The expressions on Amy’s face, before depressed and conflicted, now seeming… acquiescent? Orgasmic? The wrongness of it all becomes pervasive. Seimetz’ direction puts us inside a heart that’s rending itself apart.
And this is all before the film’s main conceit is introduced. Right when you think you have a handle on the vivid surrealism of this woman’s grief, she reveals to her friend Jane that she’s absolutely sure she’ll die tomorrow, which Jane initially scoffs at. But later that night, Jane becomes confident in the exact same notion, so she seeks refuge at her sister-in-law’s birthday party—only to spread the idea to four more people. Their respective realizations that their lives will end…