Seldom do us film critics get to pen a compliment such as “I’ve never seen a movie quite like [insert title here].” Those of us who watch movies professionally are rarely gobsmacked by what we see on our screens, because we’ve already seen everything. Then a picture like “She Dies Tomorrow” hits us with the flattening immediacy of a semi, and I can say, with all of its attendant reverence, “I’ve never seen a movie quite like it.”
The second feature from writer-director (and often actress) Amy Seimetz, “She Dies Tomorrow” is full of contradictions. It can be darkly humorous, but it is anything but a comedy. It’s not a horror film, though its implications are frightening. It’s a supernatural thriller in its premise, but plays out with an eerie sense of logic and rationality.
You’ll never be gripped to the edge of your seat, but what’s going on in your brain while you absorb its matter-of-fact acceptance of mortality is likely to linger long after a lesser movie’s surface jolts have subsided. It is uncomfortably real, and uncomfortably now, and that’s why it sticks.
Though it hopscotches between its small, creatively cast ensemble, the central character is Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a recovering alcoholic in the process of moving into a new house. When we first encounter her, she is acting strangely, by all accounts: caressing the walls and wood flooring of the home, listening to the same side of an opera album on an endless loop, scrolling through cremation urns and leather jackets online, activating her leaf blower in the dark of night—always with a glass of wine in one hand.
In the midst of this seeming break with reality, Amy calls her friend Jane—played by the great Jane Adams, portraying, as usual, a woman at the end of her tether, staring into a chasm—who ditches a family birthday to visit her. Amy tells her, in no uncertain terms, that she is going to die the next day. Jane simply chides her for relapsing, and heads home. But it’s not long until Jane, too, is confronted with the same psychic premonition, presented by Seimetz as a kaleidoscopic wash of pulsing color blanketing the character’s vision, and ours. Death, apparently, has come to favor rainbows of light over black shrouds.
Jane, frantic, visits her brother (Chris Messina), who is hosting a birthday party for his wife (Katie Aselton), and shares the information about her mortality, suddenly looming less than 24 hours away. They treat her as a crazy person until they, too, see the light. In our time of mass contagion, the implication is a terrifyingly prescient one: the characters are infecting each other, the brilliant colors a potent symbol of an invisible virus on its merciless march.
To recite any more of this story risks revealing too much information, but Seimetz’s carefully selected title is its own spoiler alert. “She Dies Tomorrow” is a simple and bold declarative sentence, and there are few ways to parse it for an escape route.
We hope, therefore, not for some deus ex machina to free these nice, ordinary people from the certainty of what’s coming, but to ride the journey with them, through its spectrum of aftershocks: panic, despair, resignation, regret for precious time spent on frivolousness, and, perhaps, when there’s nothing else left to feel, acceptance.
It is the job of Hollywood to make us forget about death, to observe the eternal flicker of our favorite actors long after they’ve shed their mortal coils. “She Dies Tomorrow” is the opposite of this, a vital film about confronting what we all will face, just hopefully not tomorrow. When it’s my time, I hope I think of Seimetz’s movie. It will help me get through it.
“She Dies Tomorrow” is now available on streaming providers including Google Play, Fandango Now and Apple TV.