You’re going to die. Maybe not today or even a year from now, but at some point down the road your heart will stop beating and you will be dead. Sorry, them’s the breaks. Most of us rarely, if ever, think about our impending demise despite it being a certainty, but anxious times can change that in a single worrisome moment. As I write this, though, the entire world is caught up in the same worrisome moment — we’re all feeling it, and to one degree or another, we’re all thinking about our mortality. Writer/director Amy Seimetz didn’t make She Dies Tomorrow during the pandemic, but it’s a horror film seemingly and presciently aware of humanity’s shared anxiety in these horrifying times.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a young, independent woman and a new homeowner, but she’s been overcome with the belief that she’s going to die tomorrow. It’s taken over her day — she spends hours lost in thought, shops online for urns, wonders aloud if her skin can be made into a leather jacket after her death — and while she tries to explain the feeling to her friend Jane (Jane Adams) it appears to be in vain. Jane instead worries that Amy has relapsed in her drug addiction, but later that night Jane is overcome with the certainty that she herself will be dead by tomorrow too.
What starts as Amy’s personal breakdown spreads, first to Jane, then to Jane’s brother (Chris Messina) and sister-in-law (Katie Aselton), and beyond. Personal reactions vary, but the singular constant is sadness — some are sad about things undone, others mourn time wasted with people and things unloved, and so on. It becomes a shared experience highlighting the loneliness and regrets within us all.
She Dies Tomorrow is unlike most examples of cosmic horror in tone and execution, but as its characters face the unwelcome revelation that their inconsequential existence is nearing its end their nightmare takes hold. Seimetz’s script offers no explanation for this viral feeling of imminent death, but it’s instantly recognizable to viewers who’ve experienced even the slightest of anxieties — our worries and concerns often grow beyond reason, and those same feelings can touch others in our lives. Like a less bloody but more emotionally visceral Pontypool (2008), it’s attempts at communication that spread the “disease.”
It’s that realization, that we can’t reach out to the ones we love when we need them the most, that hits hard for anyone who’s experienced depression and worries about sharing it with friends or family. More generally, but more specifically to the current state of the world, it’s a gut punch for those forced to “visit” loved ones via zoom or from a distance. Get too close, and you might inadvertently kill them. She Dies Tomorrow doesn’t tread too far down that path, but its warning is clear.
As grim as things get here, Seimetz finds dark humor amid the sadness and hopelessness, and Jane (and Adams’ pitch-perfect performance) is a big part of that. She’s an oddball who’s spent her life immersed in microscopic lives — she literally stares through a microscope at living cells as inspiration for her art, chasing non-human lives with interpretation — and only now does she seek out those around her for companionship. One couple mourns not the loss of their relationship, but the loss of time they could have spent apart. It’s a commentary delivered perfectly dry, and it stings even as it amuses.
Seimetz and cinematographer Jay Keitel capture the isolation and depression through still frames and empty space, but it’s the viral awakening that presents itself in more stylistic fashion. Colors land and swirl across dazed and dawning faces as one by one the weight of certain doom settles into their consciousness. It’s tragedy wrapped in beauty, but the horror at its heart remains. You are going to die, but does it really matter that you lived?
She Dies Tomorrow does take a short while to find its footing — the first twenty minutes spent with a mostly silent and depressed Amy teeter on navel-gazing, but as more characters enter the frame the film’s purpose comes clear. This isn’t feel-good cinema about dying people who use their final days to be kind or amend regrets. It’s more immediate and real in its observations on mortality. Our death promises only to be as inconsequential as our birth, and the memory of our life will live only as long as those who spent time within it. The universe gives zero shits, so maybe, just maybe, we need to do far more of the heavy lifting.