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Back in March, I wrote that Natsuka Kusano’s Domains was the first film that really spoke to the Covid-19 era. Well, here is the second, from actor-turned-auteur Amy Seimetz: a haunting drama of what happens when despair goes viral, and the R number governing shivery existential panic gets above 1. It’s an eerie essay in creeping dread and collective hysteria, about the fear of something awful just outside your field of vision.
She Dies Tomorrow is a scary movie that behaves non-generically but by no means non-scarily, more like an indie-stonewashed realist American picture than a psychological horror. There’s an obvious influence. It resembles the eerily atmospheric work of director Shane Carruth – Seimetz’s ex-boyfriend.
But I would say it probably more resembles Lars Von Trier’s doomy jeu d’esprit Melancholia, and Seimetz may also have absorbed a reverence for the experimental work of US film-maker James Benning, who has a disturbing cameo playing a leather worker specialising in bespoke garments made from recently killed mammals that the customer has to bring into his workshop still warm.
Kate Lyn Sheil plays Amy, a depressed young woman who is to be patient zero in a spreading rapture of contagious sadness. She has recently moved into a new house, nervous about living there on her own, and is overwhelmed by the weird, empty sense of non-identity that we can all have in a new place, with boxes everywhere, the mood not helped by listening to Mozart’s Requiem at full blast. Amy is then struck by a strange, passionate certainty that she is going to die tomorrow.
A panicky phone call to her friend, Jane – an excellent performance from Jane Adams – fails to calm Amy and instead instils in Jane the conviction that she, too, is going to die tomorrow. In her pyjamas, and in a state of some derangement, Jane shows up at a dinner party being held by her brother and infects everyone present with her own die-tomorrow belief, from which Seimetz creates some blackly comic hospital scenes. Jane shows up at the emergency room to babble her alarmist news about dying tomorrow where the handsome, frowning doctor (Josh Lucas) listens carefully, starts out by referring her to a psychologist and winds up whimpering helplessly in Jane’s arms.
As Jane’s brother says: it’s not as irrational as all that. Dying tomorrow is only absurdly impossible if you’re immortal. Plenty of people die unexpectedly. Even people on their deathbed often can’t grasp the idea that it could happen at any moment. We all of us think that death happens at some point in the misty future. It’s not near enough to be in focus. Yet one of the things that weakens with age is the ability to ignore death. Saying that you’re going to die tomorrow is another way of saying that you have understood for the first time that you are going to die. But maybe it’s also a hysterical way of warding off the evil. Suddenly proclaiming this allegedly imminent event is like the line about seeing Goody Proctor with the devil in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: it’s a way of warding off fear and accusation, a proclamation that you are defiantly aware of the last judgment on its way. It’s a pre-emptive shout to the heavens about that thing that you are most afraid of.
It’s easy to call She Dies Tomorrow a Covid-19 metaphor. But it’s more like a literal depiction of the fear that spreads where the actual disease does not. And we have all experienced it now: that growing sense that nothing is real, that nothing can be depended on, plans cannot be made, the assumed present and the anticipated future are melting. Everything in our Covid lives has become provisional and noncommittal, just like Amy’s depressing new house in which she hasn’t unpacked any boxes and in which she can’t imagine ever living. It’s not a pleasant thought. It’s not a reassuring film. But it has a chilling brilliance and relevance.
• She Dies Tomorrow is on Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player and digital download from 28 August
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: She Dies Tomorrow review – brilliant chills for the Covid-19 era | Drama films