She Dies Tomorrow, the new film from writer-director Amy Seimetz, begins by frustrating its audience. The first few minutes closely follow the protagonist, Amy (Kate Lynn Shell), as she unravels alone in her apartment. She wanders from room to room as if in a haze, playing Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” on endless repeat. She presses herself against the wall in fascination, then reverently traces her finger along the hardwood floor.
When Amy’s friend, Jane (Jane Adams), comes to check in, she finds her wearing a sparkly dress in the backyard, glass of wine in one hand and leaf blower in the other. Momentarily a voice for the audience, Jane asks what is going on, but soon after their exchange she will share Amy’s warped perspective. This is the film’s version of a dramatic promise— Seimetz lets us flounder through the opening for something sensical to hold onto, confident that, like Jane, our confusion is the necessary first step to seeing Amy’s behavior with new, understanding eyes.
As hinted by the title, Amy’s actions are those of a woman who knows she has just one day left to live, despite having no particular reason to think so. A concerned Jane initially chalks it up to a relapse of her friend’s alcoholism, but once she returns home, she finds herself gripped by the same certainty of impending doom. As the two women react to this sudden knowledge in their own ways— Amy with adventure-seeking and reminiscence, Jane with family interaction and familiar comforts— they inadvertently continue to spread their ominous contagion, until everyone they know is living as if this day is their last.
Though marketed as horror, the experience of She Dies Tomorrow is not so easily classified, as each character’s unique response to their existential angst changes the tone of their scenes. Instead, her film is best described as a creative exploration of anxiety and its many, varied presentations: some have panic attacks, others are eerily at peace; some weep over their regrets, others jump fearlessly into hard truths. That these frequently contradictory behaviors emerge from a single, shared motivation is central to the movie’s intrigue, which only grows as the scope expands beyond Amy and Jane. Crucially, Seimetz keeps the physical reality of the threat ambiguous, giving us just enough to believe in the affliction (something not always afforded to real sufferers of anxiety) without sacrificing the metaphor to plot device.
Making good on its promise, the film’s world becomes gradually easier to process, but it does aim to inspire thought more than entertain. Viewers who look for cinema that demands their attention and interpretation will find Seimetz’s film rich with meaning, and potentially just as rewarding in repeat viewings. One element that does offer more accessible value comes entirely from present circumstances: She Dies Tomorrow is a strong pandemic movie. Its conception of transmissible fear feels powerfully relevant, and a visual tendency to abstract things with extreme close-ups makes the angst-virus feel simultaneously cosmic and microbial, imagery that I found deeply affecting. To those who don’t usually go for movies like these, I recommend giving this one a try— after an hour and a half of watching people live with the specter of death, the strangeness of lockdown inertia makes a lot more sense.