She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

Rates: * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? Seen at MIFF 2020, via their digital platform.

Cast, crew, etc.

Trailer

A troubled young woman, Amy, moves into a new house. She puts on Mozart’s ‘Requiem’, drinks a lot of wine, stands in her garden revving her leaf blower. Her friend comes over: concerned. Amy tells her calmly that she is going to die tomorrow. Is she having a nervous breakdown? Her friend thinks so. But later, the same feeling of fatalistic dread comes suddenly to her as well, and seems to be spreading…

Director, and sometime actor, Amy Seimetz, has lucked upon an almost perfect movie for 2020. While she worked on the script over the past few years, and shot it last year, this movie’s ideas are so attuned to life during the covid pandemic, it’s almost uncanny. People are sitting in their houses, often alone, feeling a sense of creeping dread, just like the characters in this movie.

The film attempts to visualise mental stress; anxiety, paranoia, isolation. It does some of this literally, using trippy coloured lights and weird sound effects, the sources of which are not shown. These come to the characters unexpectedly, and impact their behaviour. People go from feeling fine, doing their work or conversing with others, to a manic depressive death spiral, snap! Like that. Mood swings can be sudden, and arrive without notice; we are often unaware of what will trigger dark thoughts.

Amy’s own mental disturbance is contagious, spreading like a virus among her friends. As each one becomes convinced that they are going to die tomorrow, they tell people about it, which spreads it still further. It made me think about social media, and viral internet content; bad news, negative posts, and criticism always seems to spread rapidly. Depressing thoughts have a strange power; like the cliche of passing a car crash and not being able to look away. Amy is aware of the effect she has on people, and isolates herself, driving out into the middle of nowhere. Another comment on mental health; depressed people often shut themselves off from everyone else.

A film with a lot of interesting ideas, that can be read a number of ways. In interviews, Seimetz has said she has enjoyed the wide range of reactions the film is engendering, and how differently people are responding to it. The way she described it in one interview was: she was still figuring out its meaning herself, even now. This is intriguing in a way, but I did sense the lack of specificity at times. The film is so open to interpretation, even its creator doesn’t know what it is.

It is elevated by two terrific central performances. Kate Lyn Shiel, a top young actress who has appeared mostly in indy cinema, is compelling as Amy. Her mental disintegration, triggered seemingly by a bad breakup, is well captured, and she manages to make some outlandish behaviour seem like a natural extension of the character. And Jane Adams, more of a veteran character actor, is brilliant as her best friend/sponsor. Watching her deal with her own ‘I’m dying tomorrow!’ moment, while she wanders the city in her floral PJs, is emotionally engaging, and at the same time hilarious. These two are so great to watch, the other characters suffer a little by comparison; the script is clearly less interested in them, although they do get a few funny moments.

A stylishly made puzzlebox. How high you rate it may well depend on your own interpretation of its meaning.

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