She Dies Tomorrow certainly feels relevant to the modern-day world. How could it not? After all, it’s a story about a bunch of people grappling with imminent doom while being isolated from others. It seems practically tailor-made for the age of self-quarantine and social distancing. Then again, She Dies Tomorrow would have felt relevant in any era. COVID-19 has exacerbated those feelings, no question, but there’s always some looming disaster that makes one acutely aware of their own mortality. A worldwide war. Global warming. The worldwide rise of neo-fascism. Life itself is filled with things that put our lives in jeopardy. It’s a tragic quality of human existence that also ensures She Dies Tomorrow has a timeless quality to it. The newest film from writer/director Amy Seimetz didn’t need the COVID-19 pandemic to be relevant, though it certainly doesn’t hurt.
We begin She Dies Tomorrow with Amy (Kate Lein Shell), who is wandering around her newly purchased home in a daze. She’s become fascinated with the floorboards, searches for leather jackets and colorful urns online and listens to the same Mozart song on repeat. What’s going on here? Well, once her friend Jane (Jane Adams) arrives, it becomes clear. Amy is dying. Literally. Amy is convinced she will die tomorrow. Jane dismisses this as just a bunch of gobbledygook from a struggling friend. But when she returns to her own home, Jane becomes convinced of the same thing. Jane is going to die tomorrow. Once Jane goes to her brother’s party, the idea begins to spread and spread, with six people eventually realizing that they’ll be dying in the next 24 hours.
She Dies Tomorrow is a film that begins on one path and eventually splits off into multiple patches. Soon, we’re not just following Amy’s story, we’re following Jane’s saga and then we’re also watching the tale of her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and his wife Susan (Katie Aselton). Utilizing this storytelling method, each of the characters of She Dies Tomorrow are able to come alive as fully-formed people capable of inhabiting different types of roles. When she first appears in She Dies Tomorrow, Jane functions as a more stable person trying to coax Amy out of her turmoil. However, as we follow Jane’s own storyline, we see how she has her own mental health problems and familial issues to grapple with.
As the threat of death of grows closer and closer to Jane, she only becomes more multi-faceted as a character. The same is true for each of the players in She Dies Tomorrow, who all react to the prospect of death in a distinctly different way. Some resort to violence in the face of their impending demise. Others try to cut off relationships that just aren’t working. Still others take trips down memory lines involving dune buggies. Though each of its characters are reacting to imminent death, the high level of specific details in each of the reactions ensure that She Dies Tomorrow never falls into repetition.
The unique quality of each of these experiences is really helped by the various performances of the cast members. After headlining Amy Seimetz’s debut feature Sun Don’t Shine, Kate Lein Shell reteams with the director for the lead role of Amy. Much like her work in Sun Don’t Shine, Lein Shell’s performance in She Dies Tomorrow makes great use of the actors ability to convey powerful amounts of sorrow in just her eyes. It’s a quality that infuses such a human quality into her acting and makes stripped-down scenes, like the opening sequences showing Amy just wandering around her house in a resigned daze, totally transfixing. Also impressing in their on-screen work is Tunde Adebimpe as Brian.
From the moment we first meet Brian sitting awkwardly but attentively at a birthday party, Adebimpe imbues the character with an endearing sense of calm. He makes Brian the level-headed character you can hold into during the most intense scenes of She Dies Tomorrow. Even with that subdued quality, though, Adebimpe still incorporates a melancholy quality into Brian’s final hours on this planet that stuck with me. The whole cast in She Dies Tomorrow tends to be this good, right down to cameo appearances by Michelle Rodriguez and Adam Wingard.
Uniting each of the characters in She Dies Tomorrow beyond being played by good actors is that they all encounter the movies colorful vision of death. Jaws had John Williams’ iconic theme music to indicate when it shark is near. She Dies Tomorrow uses a barrage of bright colors to indicate when death has entered the lives of characters like Amy and Jane. The naturalistic lighting of the rest of the movie suddenly fades away as the individual players of She Dies Tomorrow are bathed in bold blue, green, red and yellow hues. This color scheme is also carried over into a recurring visual motif utilizing close-up’s of brightly colored surfaces, like a cup containing a bubbly golden drink.
When looking at these shots, it is usually hard to make out what they are. However, the fact that they are so unusually close to the camera and the unorthodox shapes inside the frame instill a sense of dread in the viewer. It is a perfect ambiguous visual accompaniment to how death manifests in the minds of each of the She Dies Tomorrow characters. None of them know how they are going to perish. But they all know this event is something to fear. Amy Seimetz and cinematographer Jay Keitel’s use bright colors to creatively instill an uncertainty-informed sense of dread into the entirety of She Dies Tomorrow.
Smartly, Seimetz doesn’t try to provide answers to lofty questions or in-universe explanations during She Dies Tomorrow. Incorporating any of those things would totally undercut the sense of precariousness that’s so crucial to She Dies Tomorrow. Just like in real life, none of these characters know where death is going to come from. Whether it’s from a friend putting the idea in your head or COVID-19, death will eventually size us all. She Dies Tomorrow doesn’t try to impart any wise morals in the face of inevitable death. Particularly in its final scene, it merely normalizes the idea of not having all the answers. Maybe all we can do in the face of death if become fascinated by the idea of becoming a leather jacket. Maybe that’s OK. I, like the characters of She Dies Tomorrow, don’t have all the answers. But I do know for certain is that She Dies Tomorrow is the kind of evocative filmmaking I won’t be able to stop thinking about.