Contagions are a powerful force of nature, illustrated beautifully by the fact that I haven’t worn anything but basketball shorts and cheap t-shirts for the last four months because of a deadly, incurable one that has swept the world and killed over 670,000 people in the span of just eight months. Now, you’re wondering: “Fuck, is this a movie about a contagious disease? Don’t I already deal with the real-life ramifications of that every day? Don’t I deserve a break?,” and I hear you. However, Amy Seimetz’s second feature, She Dies Tomorrow might not be the film this opening paragraph might lead you to believe. Yes, it’s a film about a contagious force that spreads its way around a group of unlikely people in Los Angeles, but instead of a disease, it’s the spread of a powerful, unstoppable idea.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a recovering alcoholic moving into a new home in Los Angeles after a break-up. One fateful night, as if sent from a higher power, Amy receives the idea that she will die tomorrow. Instead of fighting it, Amy gives into the idea of her certain imminent death, and when she reveals her perceived fate to her friend, Jane (Jane Adams), she is not taken seriously. It’s not until later that Jane feels she has now discovered that she, too, will die tomorrow. With this powerful, unstoppable idea pervading the minds of everyone who is told, audiences are taken on a journey of just how fast something as simple as an idea can spread.
Shot before the epidemic, there’s something so wonderfully timely about She Dies Tomorrow that’s both on the nose and delightfully coy. Unlike a film such as Contagion that takes on the subject of a global pandemic in a straightforward manner with no subtext, She Dies Tomorrow feels like a film that you only realize how poignant and relevant it is as it unfolds before you. It’s not a film that can necessarily be described in words (at least without spoiling it, to whatever degree a film like this can be spoiled), but one that simply unfolds in a rather unique, organic manner, despite its liminal tone.
Does that mean this film is a newfound classic of its generation? Not exactly. Director Amy Seimetz (actress, known for films such as Pet Sematary (2019) and Alien: Covenant), having come up through the ranks of the film industry from the mumblecore genre popularized by indie filmmakers such as Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg, and Adam Wingard, embraces this quiet, nihilistic tone to the piece that will definitely be polarizing to say the least. Lacking any major visual flair or diegetic music, She Dies Tomorrow is a film firmly planted in the constraints of our modern world with little to fantasize about (despite its poster making the film out to be trippy and colorful, the film actually is quite organic looking). This style of filmmaking, particularly in the story being told here, can lead an audience to feel distant from the characters detailed in the film by lacking much character development and rather seeking to reveal the film’s players through extended sequences of dialogue and slow, sometimes indeliberate action.
Though, I can’t lie and say that a good portion of She Dies Tomorrow isn’t utterly transfixing, as you watch the ensemble cast slowly, but surely come to grips with the knowledge of their imminent deaths. It takes a good while to get to that point, but when the film kicks into high gear, it’s impossible not to be glued down, wondering what’s coming next.
The issue with that lies in that the film is only 84 minutes, and the major moves of the film don’t come until much later down the line in the runtime, leaving the audience with not enough time to truly revel in the sheer chaos of the ingenuity of this film. It’s a shame given that it does morph into something quite wonderfully entertaining by its conclusion.
For what it’s worth, She Dies Tomorrow is a worthwhile watch for those familiar with the subgenre of film that Seimetz’s pulls from, but even without that knowledge, it’s a film that feels both timely and escapist, a balance yet to be struck by any filmmaker within the parameters of the pandemic. Those looking for something fast, exciting, and loud should look elsewhere, and those transfixed by the film’s marketing might be taken aback by just how restrained the whole endeavor is, but if you surrender to Seimetz’s ability to utilize her screenplay to make clever insights into the power of ideas and the spread of contagions, it’s far from a unpleasant 84 minutes.
In select drive-ins beginning July 31st, 2020.
Available on VOD August 7th, 2020.
For more information, head to the official She Dies Tomorrow website.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.