She Dies Tomorrow: Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
It’s funny — sometimes the quirks of scheduling and the unpredictability of life can mean a work is released into an environment that seems to perfectly complement its nature. Such is the case with She Dies Tomorrow, the new film by Amy Seimetz that — with its intimately apocalyptic premise of a contagious fear of death, spreading from person to person with no mercy — can easily be seen to reflect the COVID era. Of course, Seimetz could not have known that this particular incarnation of the world would be the one into which her film sees the light of day, but that’s part of the beauty of the medium: much of the power of cinema comes from its ability to recontextualize itself through the audiences’ experiences as well as the filmmaker’s.
But sometimes labeling a film as merely the product — or even the exemplar — of an era fails to do justice to the filmmaker’s unique vision. So while it’s easy to consider She Dies Tomorrow in the context of the current pandemic, its true value stems from how Seimetz has seemingly managed to capture the essence of mortality and the fragility of the human psyche in one fell swoop. The film’s fulcrum is Amy (one imagines an intentional naming), a woman who wakes up convinced that — as the title says — she will die tomorrow. It’s not a dream, it’s not something that she can shake off, it’s a feeling in her bones, a certainty that precludes any possible alternative. As the film progresses, we gain some insight into how Amy was stricken with this fatalistic thought, though what came before is far less interesting than what comes after. Because in a world where this sort of mental parasite exists, the real question isn’t why, it’s what next. What do you do if you know — with absolute conviction — that today is your last day on earth?
Seimetz’ exploration of that question is channeled primarily through a phenomenal Kate Lyn Sheil, who brilliantly captures a set of conflicting emotions — terror and relief, apathy and hysteria — through subtle changes in her body language and shifting expressions. She oscillates between subject and object, actor and reactor, commanding the screen and forcing us to watch as a woman tries to decide whether she’ll live her final day in denial or acceptance. It’s uncomfortable, especially as you slowly realize that Seimetz may be using the premise to depict a frank and searing portrait of the havoc one's mind can wreak on itself, and that discomfort is only heightened by the visual and auditory tools Seimetz deploys, including repetitive music cues and the presence of a strobe-like set of colors that envelop the senses of those infected.
But the unease becomes strangely hypnotic — it scares you, but you understand, on some level, why these characters are drawn to the lights, their repeated mantra of “I’m going to die tomorrow” eventually resonating as some semblance of control wrested from the stranglehold of their own synapses. It’s a film that works on a visceral level more than anything, drawing you in and lingering long after the credits roll, leaving you to wonder what you might do were you cursed with the knowledge of your ultimate fate. Would you rage against the dying of the light, or would you do your best to make the most of the time you had left? The film posits that you may not have a choice, and that you may do both in equal measure — a possibility both comforting and terrifying — but that it's OK: that's just part of being human. Perhaps it speaks to this particular moment just as well as anything could, after all.