Premise: After waking up convinced that she is going to die tomorrow, Amy’s carefully mended life begins to unravel. As her delusions of certain death become contagious to those around her, Amy and her friends’ lives spiral out of control in a tantalizing descent into madness.
She Dies Tomorrow, the latest from filmmaker Amy Seimetz, offers a unique exploration of existential anxiety by personifying depression as a contagion that’s easily spread. It’s a film that takes its subject matter seriously and eschews any subtlety or subtext with it. Instead, the specter of impending death and anxiety takes the forefront and drives what very little plot is in the movie. In a strange way, this approach actually works to the film’s benefit some of the time. Unfortunately, at other points, She Dies Tomorrow feels too meandering for its own good.
The film begins with Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) exhibiting extreme depressive and self-destructive behavior. She’s drinking heavily, wasting away in a near catatonic state. Any semblance of routine is replaced with a severe melancholy as we see Amy groan in anguish in the fetal position on her floor. It’s not until her friend Jane (Jane Adams) comes to check on her that the film’s structure and conceit starts to reveal itself.
Jane catches the bug of melancholia when Amy announces in a dry, painful tone that she believes she (Amy) is going to die tomorrow. As the film plays out, more people become “infected” with this fatalistic airborne disease, of sorts. And by showcasing the spread of this bleak mental illness, She Dies Tomorrow forgoes a lot of character drama or development in favor of an all-encompassing tone of bleakness.
Despite the title, the atmosphere isn’t necessarily one of impending death. Amy Seimetz’s command of the film’s wave-like spread of bleak mental illness is highly commendable. The tone she strikes is an accurate depiction of the feeling one experiences when they’re being blanketed with depression and anxiety. The blanket covers any light from coming in and creates faux comfort in the attention the afflicted gives to morose and generally negative thoughts. Seimetz successfully creates this feeling in the film by showing the spread of the melancholy through multiple people and showing us their individual 180-degree turns once the cloud of anguish reaches them.
The byproduct of this focus on tone and atmosphere is that the wave of depression becomes the focal point of the story. So character development and interactions fall a bit by the wayside. There is plenty of variety in how the characters experience the demon depression. It manifests in one couple who reveal things about themselves and their relationship in hauntingly unaffected tones and matter of fact speech. Another couple’s experience is the film’s most chilling and is handled with some wonderful subtlety as it veers into extremely dark territory.
However, as good as the concept and execution is, the lack of more involved character development is very noticeable. Throughout the scene in which Jane first visits Amy, she’s obviously concerned about her friend. She tells Amy that she can’t stand to see her relapse again and more dialogue implies that this behavior is caused by the external trigger of a relationship. Yes, that external trigger does end up being this nebulous force that spreads its despair far and wide. But the way the film slightly holds back on adding dimension to the characters outside of this despair fog is something some audience members may have to wrestle with before embracing.
This is not to say there is no characterization. In fact, a frame story is established that showcases Amy in the early days of a relationship and how it dissolves. These scenes are She Dies Tomorrow at the peak of its mumblecore approach. Amy and her boyfriend Craig’s (Kentucker Audley) story is shown in flashbacks and for the most part, it’s one of the film’s strengths. There are long scenes with no dialogue, some shot from a distance, that overstay their welcome slightly. But the relationship and the switch that happens within it is well done and engaging.
She Dies Tomorrow is a horror/thriller that will do what it can to dig into your psyche the way the fog of existential doom digs into its characters. It is a beautifully photographed film with colorful, psychedelic shots of microscopic slide like imagery with moving particles reminiscent of parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite sequence and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. These moments intend to help the film’s infiltration of your mind. Occasionally it’s effective, but as the film progresses the effect is slightly overplayed.
Despite some faults here and there, She Dies Tomorrow all leads toward a really satisfying final scene. Many things are left ambiguous and open-ended, which gives the viewer a lot to ruminate on after the fact. But for all of its listless meandering and lack of depth in some of the characters, She Dies Tomorrow ends on a straightforward, yet still cerebral and visceral note. It’s the thesis statement of the film. It’s the culmination of what Amy Seimetz is trying to say about anxiety, depression, and mental illness. And it hits its mark wonderfully.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.