As a reluctant existentialist, I’m often drawn to media that challenges perceptions of death and meaning, and directors who offer heartfelt glimpses into the surreal, absurd and paradoxical. I believe that art should have the freedom to be unconventional and ambiguous — so long as it gets my mind working and makes me feel something. Like the films of Bergman, Buñuel, Lynch and Tarkovsky, or the literature of Camus, Kafka and Joseph Heller, Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow checks those boxes.
While not strictly an examination of existential crisis, She Dies Tomorrow does offer a psychedelic look at morbid fascinations with the inevitability of death and the power of suggestion. What’s more, its timely release has morphed it into something it was never meant to be: a commentary on COVID-19 paranoia, justified or otherwise. It’s not a perfect movie, but its unintended relevance is difficult to ignore in an age when news cycles heedlessly cartwheel between death counts and the actions of shortsighted plutocrats.
Told through vividly colored imagery and jarring music, mixed with long moments of solitude and contemplation, She Dies Tomorrow begins when Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil, Netflix‘s “House of Cards”) comes to believe that she will, in fact, die tomorrow. As her unhealthy “realization” takes form, it isn’t met with a crying jag or a fit of hysteria, but with a calm night of drinking, listening to music, and — wait for it — lawn care. After a visit from somewhat self-centered friend Jane (Jane Adams, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Amy’s grip on reality seems to falter further as she gives in to a tense and tripped-out vision of serenity.
But what seems like drunken foolishness to those who witness Amy’s display quickly also becomes their reality as they too succumb to the fear of impending death. Whether this mass delusion is to be taken literally is unknown, but what seems clear is that sometimes a simple idea can be more dangerous than hardened logic and that once a macabre abstraction has been firmly planted, shaking isn’t as easy as it may seem.
She Dies Tomorrow pulls off a neat trick. With simplistic, nearly amateurish backseat philosophizing, it forces viewers to ponder their own lives and deaths — even if, like me, they were sure a little old indie movie wasn’t capable of that. And with the debate raging about COVID precautions, schools re-openings and further dangers presented by the virus, the paranoia felt by the film’s characters will surely strike home on some level, depending on your stance on the issues and your tolerance for cerebral, metaphorical and hallucinatory filmmaking.
Available to rent via Apple and Google Play