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Death becomes her – ‘She Dies Tomorrow’

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Every once in a while, an unanticipated confluence of circumstances results in a piece of art inadvertently becoming representative of a moment in time. That isn’t to say that the book/movie/song isn’t resonant on its own terms, but that outside factors can impact how a work is received.

“She Dies Tomorrow,” written and directed by Amy Seimetz, is just such a work. It’s a visceral and hallucinatory ride through a woman’s inexplicable epiphany regarding her own mortality and how that epiphany transforms everyone that she encounters. It is vivid and raw, a roiling collection of colorful confusion, the kind of movie that would be memorable in any environment.

But in THIS environment – in a world where a raging pandemic has left us isolated and exhausted – this film hits like a sledgehammer. This movie is an exploration of metaphysical contagion, of how fear and paranoia and sadness and fatalism can infect us. It wasn’t made with the current moment in mind, yet it could not be a more apt representation of that moment.

We meet Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil, “The Wanting Mare”) at a moment of personal turmoil. Her romantic relationship has just ended. She’s just bought a house. She’s struggling with sobriety.

And she knows – KNOWS – that she is going to die tomorrow.

Where that information comes from is unknown. Nor do we know how she can confirm the veracity of this feeling. But she is unshakeably sure – she is going to die.

She reaches out to her friend Jane (Jane Adams, TV’s “Messiah”), an artist specializing in images of microscopic scenes scaled up; their conversation is so vague and lacking in clarity that Jane makes her way to the new house, only to discover an off-the-wagon Amy in the back yard. Amy shares her conviction regarding her impending death with Jane, who dismisses her friend’s morbidity.

But when Jane gets home, she suddenly finds herself swept up by the idea that she too is going to die tomorrow. The certainty is such that she flees, making her way to her brother’s house. Jason (Chris Messina, “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey”) is having a small party to celebrate the birthday of his wife Susan (Katie Aselton, “Bombshell”); their friends Tilly (Jennifer Kim, “Black Bear”) and Brian (Tunde Adebimpe, “Marriage Story”) are there as well.

Jane’s arrival – and insistence on talking about her impending death – greatly unsettles the group; Susan is particularly angered by Jane’s behavior. But after her departure, these four are also overwhelmed by the deep-seated knowledge that they too will die tomorrow.

Throughout the night, we follow these people as they each come to terms with this new reality. All of their unpleasant truths and unspoken fears come bubbling to the surface, expressed with equal parts regret and relief. Each of them deals with their perceived impending death in different ways, though finding any sort of satisfaction proves to be a struggle.

And all the while, the end is nigh.

I’ll be honest – I’m still not sure how I feel about “She Dies Tomorrow.” And I have a hunch that a lot of viewers will be in a similar boat. I will say that I very much agree with the sentiment expressed elsewhere that this film is “the most 2020 movie of 2020 so far.” Love this movie or hate it, you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree. The parallels are striking – the themes of emotional isolation and paranoid contagion, the bleak sense of fatalism … we’re living through them as we speak.

That isn’t to say that this film’s effectiveness is based entirely on the synchronistic timing of its arrival. This is a movie that would have wormed its way into your head regardless of circumstance; the current environment simply makes us all more susceptible to it. It is a striking collection of images, stark close-ups and oddly static wide shots and unsettling evocative interstitials. There’s something genuinely haunting about not just the ideas, but the manner in which they are assembled and presented; I haven’t been able to get this out of my head.

Now, if you’re someone with a need for consistent narrative logic, this probably isn’t the film for you. I’ve long been a proponent of low-exposition storytelling, where we the audience are trusted to fill things out on our own, but “She Dies Tomorrow” pushes that envelope in a major way. Not only are we dropped into the film with no explanation, but there’s very little explanation forthcoming; the film dances on the edge of chaos … and topples into it more than once. Seimetz has little interest in spelling any of this out; for better or worse, we’re on our own.

Sheil’s lead performance as Amy is the foundation of the film. She proves remarkably adept at conveying the fatalistic resignation to her circumstances almost wordlessly. She doesn’t need to tell us how she feels – she shows us with every semi-grin and shed tear. And it’s balanced wonderfully with the flashback sequences in which we see her as she was before her unwanted revelation. She’s the glue that holds it all together.

The supporting cast shines as well. Adams does lovely work as Jane, providing a wide-eyed counterpoint to Amy’s resignation. There’s a desperate energy to her performances that serves the film well. Aselton lends a harsh coarseness to Susan that is undercut beautifully by the impact of her newly understood fate; Messina’s amiability serves as the perfect foil. It’s a strong pairing, as is the Kim/Adebimpe duo; their journey is the most darkly funny of the group, for reasons that I won’t spoil. We also get good (albeit brief) turns from Kentucker Audley, Michelle Rodriguez, Josh Lucas and indie horror darling Adam Wingard. All in all, a quality ensemble.

Again – I don’t know how I feel about this movie. The jarring tonality and narrative opacity aren’t going to work for everyone. They didn’t always work for me. And yet, it says something that the film lingers in the consciousness so strongly. Some will consider “She Dies Tomorrow” a good movie and others will not, but all who see it will likely never forget it.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 03 August 2020 09:38

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