The uncertainty of life’s timeline has never been dubious in its distress factor. We search for answers and comfort in religion, in each other, or in ourselves, desperately fighting the anxiety of its ambiguity. So, when we’re finally reached with an abrupt, unflinching moment of clarity on our life’s impending end, is there anything that actually makes it easier to swallow? Or, are we left alone with our anguish and regret, trying to smother our thumping hearts into submission and accept the moment they’ll inevitably stop beating?
Amy Seimetz’s sophomore feature, She Dies Tomorrow, is a mumblecore manifesto about these hysterical hyperboles, minds in transition, and life’s troubling dichotomy of passivity and activity. The film follows Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a woman who is struck with the adamant realization that she’s going to die tomorrow — but her conviction is contagious, and it spreads from person to person throughout the town in which she lives, setting a tragic doomsday domino effect into motion. She Dies Tomorrow maneuvers the morose mundanity of everyday existential dread. It worms its unease into the space between your ribcage and festers there, but its heavy-handed delivery is a bit underestimating, and its lean into a contrived format isn’t committed enough to feel entirely intentional.
The film’s structure is choppy by design, taking you from floods of deep despair to still, tragically apathetic waters in a single cut, and transitions from each story with a quickness that reminds you how irrevocably tethered each character is to the last. Paralleling deadness and life with cyclical strategy is, in theory, a compelling proposition of life’s quotidian layout. However, in practice, the film loses its impact, becoming monotonous with every new inclusion of it. The tonal shifts are so blatantly presented that it sometimes seems Seimetz was worried that if they were any more subtle, we’d miss them — we wouldn’t. The narrative format makes for a good blueprint, but lacks support to its structure. The characters are largely underdeveloped, so despite the trepidation being poignant, we hardly care for its existence outside of our own hearts. The film affords shallow dips into their personas, but ultimately leaves them regretfully enigmatic. We aren’t made to root for anyone because outside of Amy, we’re hardly given context to who they are.
It’s the potency of the film’s atmosphere that serves as one of its greatest successes. In the indistinct moments of underlying, baseline worry, the film is muted and faded. There’s a permanent basis of claustrophobia, with characters residing on the edges of the frame, in tight bounds, or existing within multiple frame-within-a-frame shots. At the same time, the color palettes of the environment and the individuals often meld, visually becoming inseparable. We can feel that the characters are just as much willfully stagnant in their existence as they are trapped by it. Yet, She Dies Tomorrow takes full advantage of its drama when its characters begin to spiral in response to their inclinations of imminent expiry. Nearly imperceptible, the color tone shifts from warm to cool before liquid waves of neon color overcome the frame. Neon, in its vibrance, usually signifies energy and vitality, but She Dies Tomorrow cleverly repurposes it, corrupting its connotation by washing stiffening dread over those who become consumed by its light.
The score contains an atmospheric, incessant ring, nearly religious some times, and at others, explicitly so. The tactile nature of the film is apparent: whether its hands sliding across hardwood floors or crushing leaves within their grasp, the sensory application roots the film in the most grounded of ways. It beautifully, yet tragically, asserts the desperation of clinging to your senses while you still have them — before you succumb to unknown nothingness. However, She Dies Tomorrow, above all else, is uplifted by Kate Lyn Sheil’s performance, and the beguiling, gripping gaze of her eyes that leaves you bound and enraptured from their initial capture. She masterfully executes Amy’s teetering nature, always on the edge of turmoil. With a slipping foot and a safety rope tied to the other side, she exists solely on the precipice, tightroping on neutrality, and we feel every anxious shift in balance.
She Dies Tomorrow grabs you by the throat with a feigned delicacy that makes the confrontation of its anxiety and visceral desperation all the more harrowing. Its fearless presentation of quiet, internalized dread is enough to tighten your chest, and any moment of relief is cathartic, yet tinged with an existential uneasiness of knowing its only temporary. However, despite being built on a solid skeleton, the lack of empathetic supporting characters and ham-fisted tonal shifts don’t manage to adequately fill the space between its bones.