2020 has been, to say the least, a nightmare year. Social unrest, systemic injustice, extrajudicial executions and kidnappings in the streets, murder hornets, and a political climate that would be laughable if it weren’t so damn pitiful and sad. Oh yeah, and there’s an international pandemic that has changed every aspect of our lives. Between social distancing orders, the closure of theaters, the economy grinding to a halt, and restrictions on travel, few things have been hit harder than the film industry. With all of this happening, it’s hard to imagine any movie really benefitting from this asinine fever dream of a year. But that’s just one of the numerous ways She Dies Tomorrow sets itself apart from the rest.
While staring into a Pink Floyd level light show with no discernible source, recovering alcoholic Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil; V/H/S, You’re Next) has a revelation. She’s going to die tomorrow. She doesn’t know how or why, but she knows it’s going to happen. After throwing herself off the wagon with Incredible Hulk like force, she calls her neurotic best friend Jane (Jane Adams; Eternal Sunshine, Poltergeist) over. After receiving the news, Jane gets the disembodied laser show and has the same revelation. Each new person that hears of a loved ones death omen has one of their own, beginning their own coping process. Some of which have very real, very tangible consequences.Each time the lights appear someone receives their omen and a new perspective is added, with each new perspective comes the unraveling of a life.
This is the second feature length film from writer/director/producer/all around bad ass Amy Seimetz. Tackling timeless themes like womanhood, paranoia, hysteria, the infectious nature of ideas, and the ever looming cloud of our own mortality, She Dies Tomorrow could have been released at just about anytime and worked. But dropping in the midst of a global pandemic gave the movie a whole new layer of relevance that Seimetz could never have anticipated. The film switches perspectives between affected persons, allowing us to see the different manners in which people handle the looming threat, with each stage of grief, from vengeful rage to serene acceptance, represented. The nature of the story gives the film the opportunity to have a sizable and diverse cast of fleshed out, three dimensional characters while maintaining an insular, claustrophobic atmosphere, which they capitalize on tactfully.
A who’s who cast of genre actors elevates She Dies Tomorrow from an interesting idea to a hilariously surreal achievement. Sheil and Adams both turn in quirky performances, but do it in a way that’s believable. Either of these roles in the wrong hands would have morphed into zany, over the top characters about a quarter inch deep. Instead we get two real people, with their own quirks and charms, trying to cope with an unbelievable situation. The awkwardness of Adams’ in the birthday party scene is palpable, and Sheil’s nonchalant compliance with her doom hits it’s peak in her scene with Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Blair Witch), who plays every dude I knew in high school. But the standout for me is Tunde Adebimpe (A Marriage Story, Spider-Man: Homecoming) as Brian, who at his most emotional, handles the situation with as much expression as if he had just gotten junk mail. His calm, matter of fact demeanor in contrast to such an outlandish situation, not to mention a number of very emotional developments, is a treat.
Starting at a point of relative normalcy, tension and wonder build as we move. The question whether the omens are true or all in their heads is ever present, but the movie does well not to bring it into the foreground. They want you to just accept it and go along for the ride, and you do. Bright strobing lights set against a beautifully shot desert night add to the looming atmosphere. It excels where most artsy thrillers fail, building an ominous intrigue throughout. But She Dies Tomorrow isn’t content being just one thing. While it’s contemporaries exist just to build tension, this movie intentionally cuts it with dry witty humor. Refusing to take itself too seriously is one of it’s biggest strengths. It’s a dark and moody film, handling serious subject matter, but it’s also fun and humorous. Seimetz knows that her premise is outrageous and she plays with it, injecting dark humor in a way that doesn’t cheapen or diminish the serious topics and themes the film handles. In her first film she proved that she could handle the tense and the dour. In this one she proves she can handles just about everything else. While it serves as a fitting pandemic quarantine movie, I only hope that it isn’t reduced to just a cover movie and that the original message shines through.
She Dies Tomorrow is playing in Drive-Ins nationwide now, and drops on VOD platforms Friday August 7th.This is my must watch film of the 2020 so far, so I highly suggest everyone checks it out. At least this goddamn year produced something positive.