Filled with suffocating dread and a kiss of impending doom, She Dies Tomorrow asks an awfully big question of an ever increasing number of people.
Speculative fiction is a tough genre to summarize, as its borders are a bit fuzzier than others. Typically, these stories can be boiled down to asking a single big question about reality breaking. What is death isn’t the end? What if time stops? What if you get everything you want? Writer/Director Amy Seimetz launches us into She Dies Tomorrow by asking with a single question: What if dread is contagious?
We begin after Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) knows that she is going to die. And tomorrow. Of this she is certain, and nothing can convince her otherwise. Not her friend Jane (Jane Adams), who tries to explain away her insistence by discussing Amy’s lapse in alcoholism recovery. Nope. Amy knows she is going to die. Through some flashbacks with her boyfriend Craig (Kentucker Audley) we see that she was happy, and settling into her new life, but all of that will soon change because she is going to die.
Soon after insisting on her upcoming death, Jane too feels this same insistence. Jane is going to die. And tomorrow too. She goes to her brother’s house and interrupts her sister-in-law’s (Chris Messina and Katie Aselton) birthday party to tell them the terrible news. And so on, and so forth. As each character awakens to their incoming death, they are lit with bright colored lights and stare off into the distance. This is not nearly as silly as it may sound, as the weight of their realization is not lost on the film.
Though the film mostly centers on Amy as the epicenter of this aural event, the other characters are each given their due to process their assumed mortality individually. In a way, She Dies Tomorrow functions as a workshopping of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. Some drink and go on adventures. Some sit and contemplate existence. Some hold their loved ones close. Each character is given the space to be themselves and grieve in their own way.
However that anecdotal observation is barely scratching at the surface of the truly terrifying nature of She Dies Tomorrow. This film is a contemplation on the proliferation of dread, and giving up, and how powerful the absence or presence of hope can be.
With the current state of the world it is easy to get caught up in bad news and even worse future projections of the state of the world. Seimetz uses the personal allegory of one woman being filled with dread infecting the circles of people around her, in a rippling effect that knows no end. Amy is not blamed for this, nor does Seimetz offer any solution, but we are merely asked to observe this and see its effects. Sorrow and pessimism are understandable and devastating, and no matter how isolated you might feel the waves from the hopelessness can penetrate further than you dare imagine.
Or, at least that was my take on it. Much like Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, She Dies Tomorrow can also function as a cinematic Rorschach test. You see in it what is inside you, melded with the themes on screen. Interpretations of romantic relationships, American grandeur, and mental health would all be understandable here, and it would be reductive to dismiss other readings. The film is rich enough for everyone to play in its sandbox.
Running 86 minutes, She Dies Tomorrow gives us the space to sit with the characters and get to know them through their reactions. Sheil and Adams are incredible as two wildly different women with the same exact fate. They spend very little time together on screen, however their bond is evident when we first meet them and their connection held through editing and comparison throughout the film.
She Dies Tomorrow has no answers to the question it poses, but its care in exploring the options life and death give us is an incredible gift.