Much of She Dies Tomorrow dwells on a flow of melancholic scenes where young, 30-something Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) can’t seem to shake the feeling that she will somehow die within the next 24 hours. In fact, the first 15 minutes of this 84-minute psycho-paranoia film are a drawn-out, near wordless exercise in proving out the madness of Amy’s delirium, as well as how eerily contagious it is, infecting everyone else who comes within earshot of this irrational, but provoking idea of death being only one day away. That’s right, another indie horror movie just hit VOD that is suspiciously, coincidentally relevant to our current, pandemic-ridden times.
This is the first feature film in a while from writer, director, and actress Amy Seimetz (Sun Don’t Shine), who has more recently put her authorial hand in television projects like “Atlanta” and “Stranger Things.” It’s likely no accident her screenplay’s main heroine is also named Amy, who she writes as a newly freed spirit now finding reticent joy in knowing when her time will come, which is again, tomorrow, or so she claims. Eventually, this existential contagion goes on to affect (or infect) her friends, friends of friends, and even some strangers, making her the “Patient 0” for a deadly horror scenario that reminds of It Follows.
But whether or not this impending doom is literally on the horizon is hardly of much consequence or relevance to what Seimetz apparently wants to communicate with her story. It’s more about how acknowledging life’s meaningless expiration date, whatever day that may be, can reset our expectations for what it means to live a productive life. If our death is arbitrary, than maybe life is, too. This is borne out in force with Amy’s friend Jane (Jane Adams), who at one point laments how much time she wasted under the impression that her future would somehow shape a better version of herself. Other characters, including a suburban couple played by Chris Messina and Katie Aselton, embrace this potential interruption to their dull lives as something almost beautiful and bittersweet.
Whether or not you agree with such dark, nihilistic notions is besides the point. Because the film takes aim at how odd it is for human beings to assign larger meaning to the blip that is our lives in the grand scheme of the universe. We rationalize chaos as sacrosanct when the opposite is more likely to be true, and in our current time where at least a thousand people are dying a day to an actual virus, we somehow grow numb to such widespread pandemonium in order to maintain our own sanity. In other words, we search for meaning where there probably is none and ignore the more uncomfortable places where we might actually find it.
And Seimetz has fun as a filmmaker pointing out this common, human absurdity by injecting stylistic surrealism into this live-action, yet somehow technicolor world she’s constructed, where even simply hearing someone assert their incoming demise, without any other explanation, is enough to unspool a tiny, assuming thread. And before long, it fully unravels. At one point, a couple that has been going through the motions breaks down in monotone how pointless it was for them to prolong a relationship they knew wasn’t going anywhere, but kept intact due to the peer pressures they found more unsettling than the alternative. Why not make a film about how our delicate social contract can be so susceptible to a similarly invisible contagion?
Human beings are exceptionally good at wishing away the reality and inevitability of death. As soon as the thought of life’s finality bubbles up to our psyche, we hurry to bury it down with our tedious distraction of choice, which will hopefully placate our existential fears as we see fit until they inevitable return to make themselves conscious, only to be buried once again. But what if our inhibitions stopped us from repeating this cycle? That is what makes She Dies Tomorrow a true horror. The characters within have lost all pretense of thinking they might actually control their fate, and as a result, they are finally positioned to self-actualize.
Seimetz also seems to be making the point that believing our lives are infinite allows us to pretend like we can change into people we’re not. Without the prospect of a day after tomorrow, our true selves are fully revealed. Even if you only take She Dies Tomorrow to be pure allegory (which it isn’t), it’s easy to see a case for how these characters are perhaps better off living their lives under a more freeing truth. The film does enough to make this takeaway ambiguous, hopefully sparking significant discussion among those who watch it to dissect and interpret its metaphorical layers like a philosophical Rorschach test straight out of undergrad. No matter what you might get out of it, She Dies Tomorrow likely won’t leave you unaffected.