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Thursday, July 30, 2020

[Review] ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ Turns Contagion Thriller Into Experimental, Hypnotic Nightmare

Writer/director Amy Seimetz couldn’t have anticipated that her film about contagious fear would release amidst a pandemic. Still, it’s hard to dismiss the strangely prescient layer our current world events lends to her sophomore effort. The reality is that Seimetz’s complex mood piece offers multiple reads that could apply to any situation or setting; fear spreads easily no matter the social climate. Particularly the fear of death. Favoring emotion and existential dread over a more conventional narrative, however, means She Dies Tomorrow is guaranteed to be divisive.

Kate Lyn Shel (V/H/SThe Sacrament) stars as Amy, a woman whose life begins to unravel when she wakes up one morning, convinced that she’s going to die the next day. She confesses this to her visiting friend Jane (Jane Adams), who initially blows it off as a delusion caused by an alcoholic relapse. Soon enough, Jane finds herself unable to shake the sinking feeling that she’s caught Amy’s affliction, causing an existential spiral. As Jane encounters family and friends, this mysterious affliction spreads, creating a strange web of dread, anxiety, madness, and even a little body horror.

Seimetz captures the feeling of dread by applying a dream logic, both narratively and visually. There are vast stretches devoid of dialogue, and the focus bounces around from person to person as the fear spreads. Time ceases to make sense, and hypnotic colors and visuals hold both the characters and the viewer in its sway. All of which to say, the plot doesn’t really exist here. Seimetz is going for mood and feeling with laser focus, using an almost Lynchian aesthetic to achieve it.

That means that the horror doesn’t come from conventional methods, but more in the eerie tone and nightmarish visuals. Moreover, the drama and pitch-black humor make categorizing this film an arduous task. That, and the not so accessible story, means that this movie will likely be off-putting to those looking for something more straightforward and definable.

It’s an audacious concept, and Seimetz confidently executes it with a singular vision. Unraveling like a series of fragmented pieces, much of it like passing through a strange haze, expect no easy answers. If at all. This isn’t about a disease or viral spread, but instead how humans grapple with the idea of imminent death. Think more experimental character study than outbreak horror. For Amy, she opts to live life to the fullest, test driving dune buggies, and connecting with another human (Adam Wingard). For Jane, it’s an attempt to reconnect with estranged family. For others, relationships are tested, and violence offers strange comfort. All of it told through the grip of dreamlike trepidation. The impressively stacked cast fully commits.

She Dies Tomorrow applies lofty ambition to a minimalist plot, favoring hallucinogenic philosophy over a tangible narrative. It’s a gorgeous film meant to wash over you in hypnotic visuals, but it isn’t easy to connect the dots once it’s all over. It’s a bizarre puzzle of a movie, and Seimetz has tossed out the rulebook in creating a textured mood piece that confounds as much as it mesmerizes. Or, if you’re not on the film’s avant-garde wavelength, only confuse. Is it horror? Not really, though it is a genre bender that captures the feeling of fear and dread quite well. Seimetz has already made a name for herself in the horror realm as an actress with notable roles in films like You’re NextAlien: Covenant, and Pet Sematary, but her directorial efforts are quickly marking her as someone to watch.

She Dies Tomorrow releases in Drive-In theaters on July 31, and On Demand everywhere on August 7, 2020.


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