In her second feature as director, American actor-producer-filmmaker Amy Seimetz explores the existential ennui of inevitable doom in this chilling, strange horror. In the age of Covid and climate change, what could possibly feel more contemporary?
Having missed its premiere at the cancelled SXSW festival earlier this year, much has been made of She Dies Tomorrow’s timeliness. Seimetz herself has spoken of her film’s immediate relevance, though perhaps the fact that this was unintended suggests that the seeming universal sense of entropy we are all experiencing is not necessarily confined to the present moment. Every generation, as they say, thinks they will see the end of the world; all of our deaths represent individual apocalypses.
Apocalyptic narratives often project the anxieties of the individual on to the world: I Am Legend’s vampires are really about a man’s dwindling place in a changing society; the ‘Blanks’ of The World’s End are really the deferred consequences of Gary King’s alcoholism. The brilliance of She Dies Tomorrow is that it does the opposite, projecting society’s collective terror on to the individual, in this case, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who is convinced that she is going to die tomorrow. The how or the why is never broached by her or her friends, all she ‘knows’ is that this night is her last.
Soon after Amy’s friend Jane (Jane Adams) visits her, we learn that – like the zombified words of Pontypool – this mortal conviction is catching: once someone tells you that they will die tomorrow, you surely will, too. Jay Keitel’s ultra-dark, grainy cinematography is disrupted in these moments by intense flashes of colour that signal the oncoming mania (or is it a revelation?). The colourful sequences are complemented by bursts of pure abstraction as liquid colour squirts across the screen: beautiful, strange, and weirdly comforting in their genre foundations. These are the artsiest moments in this arthouse horror, but also wonderfully reminiscent of that classic film trope of the microscope shot depicting the corrupted cell, the blood infected by some alien substance. Meanwhile, flashbacks are brightly shot and crisp in contrast to the present, almost as if the image itself is deteriorating over time.
She Dies Tomorrow is billed as a horror, and its scenario certainly is that. But the word ‘horror’ denotes active subjects – even if their activity is mainly screaming and running – whereas there’s a melancholy to Seimetz’ film that feels too fixed in place for the instability of horror. It’s like those dreams where you can’t run, but here, there’s not even the desire to. Less horror, more entropic terror.
Indeed, the paradoxical premise of the infection is that action quickens the process of entropy, either by characters passing on their message of death or, in two instances, by killing their loved ones. The film’s elliptical narrative sees us leaving Amy behind in the mid-section before circling back to her in the final act. In the end, a victory for her comes not from defeating the monster, but in accepting it.
She Dies Tomorrow is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema from 28 August.
Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm