Review: SHE DIES TOMORROW, The Long, Dark, Last Night of the Soul
The question of what it means to know you're going to die is one often left to stories about those with terminal diseases, where the person is supposed to discover the true meaning of existence before they slip away into that dark night. But what if the knowledge comes without any physical manifestation? Amy Seimetz's dark and profound story She Dies Tomorrow asks, what does it mean to know your life is going to end very shortly, and can such a belief, such a profound and deep understanding and all the thoughts and emotions that come with it, become a kind of infection?
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) seems to have made something of a mess of her life, at least in some areas. Seemingly an alcoholic, unable to keep in a steady and solid relationship, she has drifted yet again. But this time is different: she knows - she knows - that she is going to die tomorrow. Is this something she picked up from her ex? A thought that flitted into her mind that has taken hold like a spreading fungus? Whatever it is, it causes her to drink heavily, start a fire in her backyard, and eminate a strange and frightening serenity as she navigates the end of her existence.
Her friend Jane (Jane Adams) tried to reason with her, but to no avail. But it isn't long before Jane, too, knows she is going to die tomorrow. Her reaction is to leave her house, with the door wide open, while in her pajamas and slippers, she does to her brother's house. There, she tries to tell him, his wife, and their guests what's going on; that she knows, with absolute certainty, that she will die the next day. At first, they are a mix of kind, impatient, and embarrassed. But soon, this strange psychological meme starts to spread.
This becomes a surreal evening, as each person slowly comes to grip with their knowledge of their own imminent death. At first, all pretense of social manners (or what passes for them) are stripped away. As often happens with those who have nothing to lose, honesty means ripping apart the people you hate, and love; admitting you don't want to be with someone anymore; realizing how much time you have wasted. But all this happens over minutes and hours rather than days and weeks. Material concerns are gone, existential dread coats every word spoken, and everyone is alone in their profound contemplation and fear.
For Amy, the seeming originator of this affliction, it causes her drive her car and a dune buggy drunk and recklessly, as she both tries to manifest this destiny sooner, or avoid any thoughts that will take her too soon into that darkness. There is a dark aura around her as she navigates this end of life scenario, courting danger in vehicles and sex with a random stranger. Meanwhile, Jane is a neurotic mess, herself passing the meme to a doctor, cutting herself, and wandering into strangers' backyards in her pajamas. Her brother and sister in law, their friends, each in turn find their innermost anxieties become the whole of their thoughts and movements, with rage, sadness, and resignation taking turns in guiding them through this madness.
Jay Keitel's cinematography takes advantage of the low budget to give us enhace the surreal perspective; indeed, the film draws you in by making you think about death, your own death, and what reaction that would bring. With a minimalist style allowing these thoughts and emotions to roam as free as this idea moves like an infected fog, occasionally lit up by neon strobes that pulsate like neurons firing in the brain.
Seimetz has crafted her story like a feverdream from which there is, or seems to be, no escape. For imminent death is not really its exploration; or at least, not its only one. Extreme anxiety and despair at a world which seems to have nothing but a bleak future; when depression and sadness become so overwhelming the only answer is to live in its apparent permanence; that moment most of us have when we think, why really should we even bother - but it's usually only a moment, and Seimetz stretches it out. She Dies Tomorrow is unshakeable, a tickle at the back of the brain that will seep into your daydreams, a vision of angst and despair, that leaves a hint of hope at its finale.
She Dies Tomorrow, released by Neon, is currently playing at select drive-ins in the USA, and will available on VOD on August 7th.