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She Dies Tomorrow

She Dies Tomorrow

Amy doesn't seem like she's at peace with whatever's going on

dir: Amy Seimetz

2020

One of the stranger flicks to come out this year, in what is turning out to be the strangest year in living memory, She Dies Tomorrow almost seems prescient in its story about someone infecting everyone she comes in contact with over the course of a day/night.

No, none of them are wearing masks, though this is the one instance in which I don’t think masks would have helped. A young woman called Amy (Kate Lyn Shiel) seems to be dealing with the aftermath of a breakup, and also with moving in to a new house, which is its own ordeal. She will burst into tears every now and then, and compulsively play part of Mozart’s Requiem on her turntable, lie on the floor, rub her face on the wall.

She really does own a lot of vinyl for someone so young, but we don’t get to check out the rest of her collection because she keeps playing the same piece from the Requiem. Shame.

Eventually she speaks to a friend on the phone, and everything she says makes the other friend not want to come over that much, because she has a birthday party she doesn’t want to go to, so she reverts to drinking alcohol and using a leaf blower in the middle of the night. I guess we have the impression that she’s not coping well with whatever it is that she’s not coping well with. Or she’s just doing random pointless things because…

When that friend does come over, the friend being Jane (Jane Adams), Amy tells her that nothing matters about anything, because Amy knows she’s going to die tomorrow. As in, the very next day. Also, she keeps telling Jane that when Amy dies, she wants Jane to organise it so that Amy is made into a leather jacket.

The above may seem like other some really egregious made up spoilers, or like some random gag some strange person would make in this context, but I’m not exaggerating and I’m not making anything up: the "she” from the title of She Dies Tomorrow is meant to be Amy, who is certain she is going to die tomorrow. And she wants to be made into a leather jacket.

Jane tries to talk Amy down, and reassure her, or conversely tell her she’s wrong and un-reassure her, and that she’s thinking like this because Amy’s clearly had a relapse in her sobriety (much is made in the movie about Amy being in recovery, but while we see her drinking a lot, she is never drunk), but Jane eventually leaves.

And when she is safe back in her home, working on one of her art projects in her pajamas, it strikes her that, yeah, she needs to go somewhere to spread the good news that she’s just discovered, with the blinking of an alternating red and blue light, and the playing of Mozart’s Requiem.

She did not want to go to her sister-in-law’s birthday. Jane knows that her sister-in-law hates her. But she goes anyway, in her pyjamas, and explains to the four people there that she is utterly certain that she, too, is going to die tomorrow. It has the certainty of gravity, or sunrise. She is convinced, and nothing can change her mind.

Her brother (Chris Messina) tries to make light of it, or keep her engaged in the conversation, which is about how appalling male dolphins are, but eventually everyone at this ill-fated birthday party becomes convinced that they too are going to die tomorrow.

Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) looked depressed before Jane even came into the room, and his girlfriend (Jennifer Kim) has the strained look of someone who would rather eat their own foot than be at this so-called party, or be anywhere with her boyfriend. Each of them is eventually impacted differently by the knowledge of their impending doom. The sister-in-law wants revenge, the brother wants to see the sun rise, Brian “releases” his father from life support in order to let him die, and Brian’s girlfriend admits she was only waiting for the old guy to die in order to leave Brian.

These descriptions, these words on a page imply that this film has a plot. This film does not have a plot. Different people become convinced they are going to die tomorrow. Different people act differently, mostly completely independent of each other, but mostly they don’t do much of anything.

Of course a flick like this coming out at a time like this, a time when an actual infectious disease that is easily transmissible and stalking us all is changing everything in predictable and unimaginable ways, it’s easy to superimpose the story here on to what’s happening. There’s no connection, honestly, but there are maybe some eerie parallels.

I honestly didn’t have to look it up before knowing, deep in my bones, that this really is less about our own mortality, or the complexities of our brief existences, and more to do with anxiety.

I’m not going to try to homogenise down different people’s experience of anxiety in all its forms in order to shoehorn it into a one-explanation-fits-all approach to the movie, but it’s a fairly safe bet to make that its origin is the moment where someone becomes utterly convinced that they’re going to die even though there’s nothing happening to them. If that fear is expressed to another person, it’s followed by “of course you’re not going to die, that’s silly, look you’re fine there’s nothing wrong with you”. Also, let me make this clear – the flick is not about suicidal ideation, the dry and technical term for people who get caught in a loop of fixating on self-harm, which is in itself another pleasant euphemism.

It’s being convinced you’re going to die, and nothing being able to convince you otherwise. In the context of the film it’s saying, “well, okay, it’s irrational, but what if I’m right?” Every loved one, family member and therapist will tell you you’re only having an anxiety attack, and they might be right, but I’m sick of them judging me, so what if they’re wrong and I’m right for once? What makes them so smart that they can continually tell me that what I’m feeling isn’t real?

Jane later on goes to a hospital and tells a doctor she’s going to die tomorrow, and he doesn’t believe her, naturally, because He is a Man of Science, and Jane patiently explains to him that she knows it’s going to happen, because it was like all those other times when she was convinced something horrific and murderous was going to happen to her. She then lists a series of increasingly disturbing things she imagined were going to happen to her which you, as the viewer, are meant to go “oh okay, just like those times” instead of “but, if any of those had actually happened, you wouldn’t be here?”

That kind of thinking is unhelpful in situations like this. Does not help at all. The point I’m getting at is not about people wishing the people around them would enable the nuttier extremes of their fears and phobias. It could just be coming from the perspective of a person who is exhausted from all the years they’ve been prey to this kind of thinking, and somehow wishing there was a time when the terror they were convinced of was actually right. What then? What do you do then?

Do you leave a relationship that you’re not happy in? Do you have someone turn your skin into a leather jacket? Do you get revenge on the person who you blame for infecting you with this death thing? Do you go to random people’s houses and use their pools? Do you go dune buggy riding in the middle of the night? Do you get drunk or stoned, or just sit there and do nothing?

And what if, even amidst your absolute certainty that this is going to happen, and all life’s bullshit no longer matters, what if in the end you’re still not sure that this is actually true?

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it. Well, that’s life, more than the fear of death, for a lot of people with anxiety. This film is not going to be satisfying at all to most other people. Let me simplify that already simple last sentence further: if you’ve never lain there most of a night wondering if you were just about to have a heart attack, only to have nothing wrong with you, and to wake up the next day like nothing happened, you won’t get this flick or anything adjacent to it at all.

Plenty of reviews call this a horror flick, or an existential horror flick, or a pretentious load of bollocks, and they’re not entirely wrong. The horror (it’s not a horror flick, not by any definition that feels right to me) is the horror that comes both from contemplating our impending annihilation and, even more terrifyingly, having to go on anyway when it doesn’t happen.

Or maybe it isn’t. The film is deliberately ambiguous as to what is actually going on. Sure, it leans in to the idea that these people are contracting a contagious certainty of their own impending doom, but it never stipulates what’s causing it beyond the actions that people themselves feel compelled to take. Is something compelling these people to do these various wacky things, or is their certainty that they won’t be alive much longer compelling them to do various wacky and downright fucked up things?

A wiser person than I could draw more of significance out of the flick than I did, but, really, it requires a lot of reaching. It’s a well made arthouse kind of film that’s mostly acted okayish, but it’s not entirely convincing. It feels compelling at certain times, as in, I felt like I knew where some of the characters were coming from, but overall it feels undercooked and sometimes a bit goofy. Kate Lyn Shiel’s performance is fine, most of the time, but the direction makes her seem even more lost than the character could be.

I watched this as part of the 68 ½ Melbourne International Film Festival, where it was available to stream at the very generous price of $14, which was about the only way the Festival was going to happen this year during a Stage 4 lockdown, and I was very happy to do so. Some of the weirdest and most unheralded flicks I ever saw were as part of that glorious festival which is now just such a distant memory. But memories are okay, they are all we have sometimes in the face of impending doom. Memories of happier times when the Reaper wasn’t sitting so close to our shoulders and propping his boney feet up on the backs of our seats.

She Dies Tomorrow, but she’s going to leave behind a one-of-a-kind leather jacket

7 times the stuff with the jacket was the most perplexing of all out of 10
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“I’m okay. I’m ready… I’m not okay. I’m not ready” – She Dies Tomorrow

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