Producers: Amy Seimetz, David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson Director: Amy Seimetz Screenplay: Amy Seimetz Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Kentucker Audley, Jennifer Kim, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Josh Lucas, Michelle Rodriguez, Adam Wingard, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Madison Calderon and James Benning Distributor: Neon
Perhaps the closest analogues to Amy Seimetz’s psychological drama are the Japanese horror films of the 1990s—Hideo Nikata’s “Ringu” and the like—in which a curse was passed from person to person through the medium of some artifact (a videotape, for instance) that went from hand to hand. Seimetz eschews the use of such a device, simply positing the transference of a potentially fatal obsession down a chain of random unfortunates. The result is a picture about anxiety and panic that’s so severe that it can kill and spread—an especially potent, and scary, notion in a time like the present.
The first act of the relatively short (84-minute) films is a one-woman tour de force for Kate Lyn Sheil, who plays Amy, a woman who’s just bought a house and is still unpacking her stuff. She’s become absolutely convinced that she will die tomorrow. Though there’s a suggestion that the fear might have come along with the house, the fact is that she’s had problems with addiction in the past (alcohol, and probably drugs), and her friend Jane (Jane Adams), whom she talks with on the phone, thinks that might be driving Amy’s feelings: she advises Amy not to do anything rash, and promises to come over and offer support.
Amy, meanwhile, meanders around her house, drinking wine and replaying the “Lacrimosa” movement from Mozart’s “Requiem” over and over again on her phonograph (as usual in movies for some reason, via vinyl on an old turntable rather than a CD player; more photogenic?). But she takes time to check website sales on custom-made leather jackets and funeral urns. She’s come to terms with her doom-laden certainty, but still can’t escape more mundane concerns, and savors the tactile experience that comes from touching the soil outside or the house’s wooden interior.
A concerned Jane eventually drops by in her pajamas, having cancelled her plans to visit her brother Jason’s place to celebrate his wife’s birthday. Almost immediately she feels the same sense of existential dread as Amy, vacantly succumbing to the belief that she too will die within twenty-four hours. Jane then proceeds to visit Jason (Chris Messina) and her none-too-welcoming sister-in-law Susan (Katie Aselton), who are nonplussed by her unusual garb, her weird self-absorption and her grim pronouncements. But they too are soon seized by the same sense of helplessness.
So too are their puzzled guests Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and his girlfriend Tilly (Jennifer Kim), who drive off still wondering what that was all about and then spend the rest of the night glumly ruminating about their imminent fate. Jane, meanwhile, decides to visit a doctor (Josh Lucas), who after finding nothing physically wrong and suggesting that a psychologist might be in order, himself falls victim to a panic attack.
Things return to Amy in the last act, though whether her experiences represent fragments of present or past is not entirely clear. She visits a funky shop whose shaggy owner (James Benning) describes what she’ll need to do to order a specialty leather jacket, a process that may have to do with the disposal of her own corpse; she rents a dune buggy from a gregarious fellow (Adam Wingard); she spends an evening with a guy (Kentucker Audley) who falls under the influence of the contagion just as he takes delivery of a pizza. There’s also a scene in a posh house where two drugged out women (one of them played by Michelle Rodriguez) are already deeply affected by the feeling of coming doom.
Viewers anticipating some sort of definitive resolution will be disappointed. “She Dies Tomorrow” is a film of mood rather than plot, reflecting through visuals , sometimes semi-realistic but often surrealistic, the feeling of profound angst that can strike without warning—and, in Seimetz’s lexicon, be passed on to others like a plague. In creating the disturbing ambience, Ariel Vida’s production design, Jay Keitel’s cinematography, Kate Brokaw’s editing and the score by Mondo Boys are integral elements.
So too are the committed performances, with special credit due Sheil and Adams for so completely inhabiting their characters. But all the cast do commendable work, with their silences as well as their dialogue important to the task.
This is an eerily unsettling piece that would make one uneasy even if we weren’t living in such parlous times.