VOD film review: She Dies Tomorrow
Surreal satire of bourgeois vanity9
Eccentric, individuated characters9
Creeping existential dread9
Anton Bitel | On 28, Aug 2020
Director: Amy Seimetz
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Chris Messina, Josh Lucas, Michelle Rodriguez, Adam Wingard
“Humans are the only animal or creature that pretends to be what it’s not. Albert Camus said that, I think.”
The speaker, Jane (Jane Adams), has just turned up – in her pyjamas, with a bandaged wrist, in a state of agitation – at the home of her brother Jason (Chris Messina), who is celebrating the birthday of his wife Susan (Katie Aselton – director/co-writer of Black Rock) with couple Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim – Female Pervert).
In fact Jane has muddled the quote – although Camus is an apt reference point for a film so dominated by existentialist concerns – and while Jane does not mention it, another characteristic often said to distinguish humans from other animals is our mortality salience, or awareness of the inevitability of death. This is the principal theme of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow, in which an absolute conviction of imminent, irreversible mortality is transmitted from one person to the next like a contagious disease – a disease that irrationally exaggerates the human condition itself.
Whether this is a case of mass hysteria, or something more supernatural – suggested by the muttering voices and neon lights that accompany the moment of a character’s infection – the desperation, panic and resignation that it inspires in its victims lead some to philosophical contemplation, others to extreme action, as all their hopes, fears and regrets become crystallised by the sense of an ending.
At the heart of the film is Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a recovering alcoholic who has just moved into a home of her own, triggering thoughts about the abortion that she had aged 22 and the different life that she might have been leading as a mother. She has also – suddenly – become certain that tomorrow will be her last day alive. Amy’s dread manifests itself as a relapse into drinking and a desire to be recycled post mortem into something useful. Meanwhile flashbacks show how she herself came to be infected with this morbid fixation, even as more conventionally chronological scenes shift focus from one character to another as the condition is passed on.
The result is an abstract merger of the verbally transmitted apocalypse of Pontypool and the mortal anxieties of 1988’s Last Night. Here the vanities of everyday living are amplified and intensified, and all our fears are reduced to the overarching, all-encompassing fear of death. Like John Dies At The End and No One Lives, Seimetz’s film has fatalism built into its title, and leaves us, like the characters, waiting to see how true the title may prove, even as we know that, whether tomorrow or later, death will inevitably come to us all.
“A movie’s an hour and a half,” says a distraught Amy when Jane suggests over the phone that she pause and try to relax by watching a film. In Seimetz’s ambiguous, uncanny memento mori, all the absurdities and anxieties of human existence are condensed to feature length.