Amy Seimetz’ sophomore feature, She Dies Tomorrow, is a slick, apocalyptic vision of thanatophobia (death anxiety). Set over the course of an eventful night, peppered with flashbacks which aim to provide emotional context, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) – and the chain of individuals with whom she interacts – become gripped by the idea that their deaths are impending. Tomorrow, to be precise.
What would happen if one felt convinced that they were going to die tomorrow? One may, encumbered by fear or due to the futility to do little else, turn to art, intoxication, human interaction, or solitude. This is all true to Amy’s experience, as seen in the first act. She contacts her best friend Jane (Jane Adams), she drinks, she researches cremation, and she sways to the symbolic and melodramatic score of Mozart’s ultimate composition Lacrimosa dies illa. Music pedals us through the rituals of Amy’s final night on earth, and towards her resignation to the promise of death.
This momentum is sustained throughout the film as the feeling of impending death accelerates, quite literally as its contagion spreads, and the emotionality of the film begins to disperse. As Amy reaches out to her best friend Jane, and Jane to her brother (Kentucker Audley), step-sister (Katie Aselton) and their friends (Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim), the spirit of death begins to assert a force of its own. Everyone in close proximity who is, at first, skeptical of this mania begins to experience first-hand the dread of tomorrow.
Red and blue lights become death sirens, as they flicker supernaturally in and out of perspective, in noticeable contrast to the white glow that illuminates the flashbacks. While these visual effects are engrossing, the film as a whole is a rather formless, one-note vision of anxiety. That’s not to say that this one-note doesn’t oscillate: it does. In the space between fear and confusion, the sense of dread fluctuates in extremity and intensity. But it is still just that, one-note.
This monotony, in turn, saturates the experience of anxiety, and the premise of ‘dying tomorrow’ comes to lose its meaning. It is reduced down to the film’s argot, a tool of communication to express anxiety and, in the film’s fantastical logic, to spread the omen. If the film detailed the emotional war of accepting and fearing the inevitable and spent less time presenting death as an infectious agent, it would be elevated to a far more nuanced and affecting view of anxiety. To make clear, the film does not need to hold our hand through its ideas; the mystique and unexplainable quality of the contagion is fascinating and sufficient to uphold the film, but without emotional substance, its intrigue is dispelled in lieu of detachment.
To explain this disconnect further, one must turn to the film’s most critical failing: its length. Despite its abundance of visual filler, the film has a detrimentally short run-time. It only just tips over the eighty-minute mark. For a narrative so emotionally driven, this run-time prohibits the development of characters, and, as a result, renders the atmosphere dense yet essentially weightless. If this under-developed quality is to collectivise the spirit of dread, and thus generate an unknowable, irrational mystique, then it absolutely succeeds. But this demands quite a bit of projection from its audience, and to abstract meaning from its enduring atmosphere is quite a task to accomplish within the space of eighty minutes.
While the film’s aesthetic achieves little more than an operatic, untethered experience of mass anxiety, it is undoubtedly enthralling. To discern this film as philosophical is, however, quite a stretch. This is because She Dies Tomorrow grapples with the idea of existence solely on aesthetic terms, with a sense of completion limited by its duration. Although there is nothing wrong with using aesthetics to tell the story, for this specific film, which unsatisfyingly dangles its intrigue to no avail, the effect feels comparative to standing in front of an interactive exhibition at an art gallery. We wander into She Dies Tomorrow allow our senses to soak up its atmosphere, then we leave, quietly and unaffectedly.