Ideas are contagious, like a virus, Christopher Nolan posited, coldly and conceptually, back in 2010 with “Inception.” In 2020, filmmaker Amy Seimetz takes that a few steps further with an emotional edge and the presciently eerie idea of infectious diseases that will spread and kill you as thoughts. In her feature-length sophomore feature, “She Dies Tomorrow,” characters aren’t overtaken by the belief that everyone, or even several people, will die— just themselves. And, as the tagline “Your deepest fear is spreading” suggests, it passes from person to person and they find themselves mysteriously enraptured by the same thought: “I am going to die tomorrow.” Anne (Jane Adams) got it from Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) the same way she imparted it others. Worse, there’s the prophetic notion of mistrust and being gaslit: no one believes people under this spell and thinks they’re insane. Maybe Amy Seimetz saw 2020 before it happened.
Like her first feature, “Sun Don’t Shine,” “She Dies Tomorrow” is an intimately shot Kate Lyn Sheil-led indie with a penchant to blend genre, a central, slowly unraveling mystery, and an affinity for surreal and evocative lens flares and visuals. The nonlinear narrative hops around several people’s experiences in being overcome by the deadly conviction of oncoming death, but Amy (not so discreetly named) is the anchor we return to, the one who introduced us to the fear that psychologically ravages everyone in its wake.
Psychedelic colors oscillate across the spectrum in the reflection of Amy’s iris and the tears pooling on her eyelid, ready to spill over in the first haunting shot of the film. It seems like a direct nod to Kubrick, given the film consists of stunned characters experiencing indescribable, abstract sensations reminiscent of David’s uncanny turn of agency in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Seimetz keeps this contagious conviction mysterious and abstract. It’s visually depicted by strobing neon lights and shifting molecular abstractions (beautifully shot by Jay Keitel), and aurally represented by a titanic throbbing that sounds like atonal techno build stripped bare (courtesy of the Mondo Boys). When people are overcome by the conviction, they have a psychotropic moment with it that magnetizes them to the screen where it typically remains on our side of the camera as its luminescence fills the room.
After Amy originally shares her revelation – “I’m going to die tomorrow” – with Anne, Anne shoots back a disappointed, “No you’re not,” and eventually leaves. But by nightfall, she becomes certain she will be dead the next day, too, as her eventual audience will be, and Amy’s, and so on.
A cast of noteworthy characters appears in more peripheral roles of those that become infected by the disease. Director Adam Wingard plays pure comic relief nobody and stoner, and Josh Lucas has a bit as a devastated and briefly aroused doctor. Michelle Rodriguez and Olivia Taylor Dudley have the best cameo roles as friends whose casual reaction to their new knowledge (“I love trees, I’m going to miss them.”) makes it seem like they’re on hallucinogenic drugs. But it isn’t so much about the characters’ varied responses as it is the conviction that connects them. And who can’t relate to catching something fatal these days?
The timing of “She Dies Tomorrow” is eerie in its real-world parallels. Its themes and ideas are prophetic and while it’s not a great time for distributing films theatrically, it’s unnervingly predictive in subject matter. The world is more in tune than ever with what it means to grapple with isolation, depression, self-harm, and existential despair, and a chaotic reality so wildly unimaginable it turns life inside out.
Like us, those in the film are stuck in a situation where the thing that gives them purpose—communing with others in their fear and loneliness— is the same thing that causes the spread. Amy and Anna both pass it on explicitly because they don’t want to be alone and that’s a terrifying thought.
‘Tomorrow’ also captures the drama we create for ourselves with a darkly funny, self-aware tone. Seimetz hones in on the stark contrast between what we experience internally and how it actually appears to everyone else—hyper dramatizing mundane moments, making them appear apocalyptic and epicly melodramatic, then suddenly, reducing them to moments are all too painful unremarkable.
“She Dies Tomorrow” could easily just play out as a foretelling psychological horror and that would be more than enough. Instead, it’s much more complex, filled with genuine thrills and laughter. Seimetz leaves you feeling content, exhausted, worn out, entertained, provoked, and does so in ninety minutes, no less.
Seimetz may only have two feature films to her credit, but this is misleading. She’s accrued many wide-ranging experiences a writer, director (Showtime’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” “Atlanta”), producer, and actor working on tiny mumblecore projects and studio blockbusters alike. Like the steadfast belief that death is impending, Seimetz’s films show major conviction and confidence and invade the mind with a sensory-laden experience.
The core belief of her film is true. Death is coming for everyone, after all, whether tomorrow or fifty years from now. But the self-awareness of mortality and the emotional baggage that creates is what this sharp filmmaker prods at here. Seimetz wants us to grapple with life and humanity, that we might recognize our own mortality and be more merciful toward ourselves amidst suffering. Anne quotes Albert Camus at one point, “Humans are the only animals or creature that pretends to be what they are not.” It doesn’t matter how many times we say something. That doesn’t make it true. [B+]