The Evil Dread | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Evil Dread 

She Dies Tomorrow recognizes the existential despair in our heads as a real plague.

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click to enlarge NEON FILMS
  • Neon Films

It is, perhaps, inevitable that we begin to read texts through the epoch-defining events of their time, even if those events had nothing to do with the texts' creation. Just like every significant movie, book or even album of late 2001 was read through the lens of 9/11, or in early 2017 as indicative of the Age of Trump, we're going to see current popular art works in the ways that they're pandemic stories. So while Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow was written and completed long before a certain deadly virus changed our lives forever, it gets a hell of a kick by emerging into a world where a whole lot of us are having trouble shaking the prospect of imminent death.

The tale begins with Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a young woman who has just purchased and moved into her first house. But instead of celebrating a beginning, Amy is obsessed with the certainty of ending—specifically, she knows that she is going to die tomorrow. When Amy's friend Jane (Jane Adams) is concerned enough about Amy's tone on the phone that she comes by to visit, she at first tries to dissuade Amy of her seemingly ridiculous conviction—until later that same night, when Jane too is struck by the same absolute belief in her own impending death.

Seimetz plays with the film structurally not just by following how this existential dread is passed forward, but by circling back a couple of days to discover how Amy herself contracted it. And that's perhaps just the simplest way the filmmaker experiments with She Dies Tomorrow, exploring the use of sound vs. silence as contributors to tension, and using images from microscope slides to suggest something real but undetectable making its way through the world. Her simplest conceit is perhaps the most effective: a shifting sequence of colored lights indicating that (for lack of a better word) the "death belief" has taken hold of a specific individual.

That's not to suggest that just because She Dies Tomorrow demonstrates an off-kilter style, it's not also simply entertaining. Seimetz demonstrates a wicked sense of humor, built on the realization that a sense of impending mortality is bound to lead people to unpredictable behavior. For some, that means an awkwardly blunt honesty about where a relationship is headed, as happens for one couple (Jennifer Kim and Tunde Adebimpe). For others, it's realizing how much time they've wasted on pointless activities. Everyone has their own sense for what works as comedy, but it gets funnier every time Amy indicates her spiral into despair by moving the needle back to the beginning of her record of Mozart's "Requiem."

The truth is that mordant humor is just one of the many perfectly legitimate ways humans deal with the terrifying voices in our heads, as the last few months have proven. That's perhaps the way that She Dies Tomorrow is most relevant to our time, even more so than the idea of not realizing that someone you've just been at a party with might have passed something on to you that portends death: This is a story not of a physical pathogen, but a psychological one, a sense of despair that we're facing the End of Days.

Seimetz's characters respond to the "death belief" through relapse into substance abuse, self-harm, reckless behavior and more, yet one of the hardest things these people face is convincing others that what is in their head is real. There's an almost absurdist scene early in the film where Amy and Jane exchange a series of "yes I am"/"no you're not" regarding Amy's statement that she's going to die tomorrow, one that gets a poignant parallel later when Jane's statement is met with a simple echo of recognition; one of the cruelest realities of mental illness is the personal feeling, and the ongoing societal notion, that it's somehow less "real" than a physical illness. While the world deals with insidious invaders that destroy the body, She Dies Tomorrow presents a reminder of the insidious invaders that destroy the mind—the little voices that tell you there's no hope, and how hard it can be to tell those voices they're wrong.

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More by Scott Renshaw

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