Fear is contagious. In She Dies Tomorrow, Amy Seimetz’s deeply fatalistic new picture, just hearing someone pontificate their impending death aloud causes the listener to experience the same trauma through vicarious transmission. It becomes an unending chain, Ringu (1998) through a game of telephone. Darkly comic and existentially dread-inducing, Seimetz works toward an experimental blueprint. She takes large risks in indulging in melodrama that requires our absolute belief. When her risks pay off, we are oh so sorry we cannot see her dazzling lightshow in the theaters, and when they do not, they remain scintillating, alive for the sake of being.
“Live each day as if it it’s your last,” as the common self-help memo goes. Seimetz reinterprets the motto as a self-harm slogan, a bit of transmittable bad news, right on time for the global fear of contagion. The main character, also named Amy by proxy (Kate Lyn Sheil, disaffected, the only one in on the comedic element), knows she will die tomorrow. It’s just a matter of fact for her. She browses boutique artisan clothing sites and realizes what must happen, that when her time comes, she wants her skin turned into a nice belt. Her close friend and confidant, Jane (Jane Adams, playing into the dread), meets those feelings with disbelief, until she soon shares them with a party of friends, and they share them, and so on. It’s a big old race to the pit of unconfirmed despair, the harbinger of anxiety, the fear of others, manifested through the spreading of truly worrying words.
We know things are amiss because She Dies Tomorrow trends toward structural experimentation. The plotting is flexible, bending in and out, moving between characters and the same feeling, without formal regard for how those things are done. It is largely more interesting for it, if it does not start with a sinking feeling, wondering how it could maintain that pacing (it does not always), until it miraculously recovers, through its own hubris and touch of innovation.
Seimetz has great chops for such a project. She proves herself wildly inventive, playing with light, producing colors fully in bloom, a film illuminated by effective and deliberate direction, as though it is directed with the same nervous mind and energy that its characters carry. With light and sound, the director plays a great trick of the mind for the audience, directs our feelings to match those of the exposition. Not so much more happens and yet it finds constant engagement in the same scenario.
Deterministically, She Dies Tomorrow does not always succeed. It takes large risks and often is most interesting when it is breaking the rules. When it knows it may not work and does not care, which is the truest form of bravery for a creation. “We all have to die at some point. Why not tomorrow?” it asks, but does not answer. It’s the kind of film that is bound to be divisive, that does not worry if it has satisfied the audience, and ultimately, that is what is most pleasing. She Dies Tomorrow is a strong-willed experiment worth watching today… because who knows what will happen tomorrow.