One of the ironies of human existence is that many of us are terrified by one of the universe's only certainties: you, and everyone you love, will die. This eventuality is more imminent for some than it is for others, yet most of us don't know exactly how much time we have left, which adds urgency to virtually everything we do. While the premise of writer/director Amy Seimetz's might sound like a horror film, what audiences are instead given is a thought-provoking examination not of death itself, but the ways in which we all cope with this certainty, creating a gorgeous, touching, and mesmerizing experience as confounding as death itself.
Motivated by nothing more than an innate feeling, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) doesn't believe she'll survive through the next day, forcing her to confront the practical ramifications of her demise. She doesn't have a terminal illness nor any other physical reason to believe she's dying, but that doesn't stop her from picking out her final outfit or deciding what she wants to happen to her remains. While Jane (Jane Adams) hopes to talk some sense into Amy, she herself ends up feeling as though she, too, will die the next day, as this feeling begins to spread through their social circle.
She Dies Tomorrow is sure to enrage some audiences, as viewers will be left as overwhelmed with the film's ambiguity surrounding this contagious sense of doom as the characters are themselves. There's no revelation regarding why these characters feel this way or the emergence of a sci-fi premise that this cycle can be broken, as we merely travel from one character to the next and see how their statuses in life result in different reactions to their expiration date approaching. While one couple takes decisive action about their true feelings for one another, another embraces their daughter as they know this might be their last encounter with her, as another pair of characters get high and look back on the things about existence they'll miss most. Viewers have just as many questions by the time the film concludes as they have when it starts, with Seimetz managing to effectively capture the entire nature of existence: no matter how long we live and no matter what experiences we have, no one will have all the answers and there are as many different ways to accept death as there are people on the planet.
What makes She Dies Tomorrow work is that Seimetz is never attempting to answer any of the mysteries of the universe through existential examinations between characters nor through overly clever dialogue, as the characters are all sympathetic enough to be drawn in by their reactions to news of their death yet banal enough that they feel like actual people. Seimetz has clearly impressed a number of performers with her various projects throughout her career to be able to enlist the likes of Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Messina, and Katie Aselton to only appear in a handful of mundane scenes, with their commitment to normality helping make the script so effective.
As effortlessly intimate as the script is the direction, as the overall tone of the film and embrace of normality is reflected in how it all looks. There's nothing at all exceptional about the set design of any of the locations, as they're just living rooms, trailers, and hospital beds, though they are all just slightly more compelling than reality, though without ever trying to romanticize the characters' surroundings.
Adding an eerie prescience to the film is that it was intended to premiere at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, which was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. For months, people have been processing their own demise as the number of confirmed deaths continues to grow, adding unintentional significance to the mystery surrounding death. While some audiences will surely witness the narrative as being somewhat hopeful, as fear isn't the prevailing reaction the characters feel, anyone seeking escapism from their anxiety-riddled existence will potentially only have those anxieties amplified.
Throughout human history, every form of art has attempted to make sense of the void that we're all careening towards, with She Dies Tomorrow being no exception. Viewers likely aren't going to leave the experience feeling enlightened, but are instead reminded that merely having the opportunity to exist and witness this film is something worth celebrating, as it beats the alternative. Not only that, but whether we love the eloquent embrace of the enigmatic nature of death or we find the film's ambling narrative bland and amateurish, the film proves that merely getting to feel anything at all and discuss our thoughts with others is ultimately what makes life worth living.
Rating: 4 out of 5
She Dies Tomorrow is available On Demand on August 7th.