Dir/Scr: Amy Seimetz. US. 2019. 84mins | Main cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim, Josh Lucas, Adam Wingard, Michelle Rodriguez, Olivia Taylor Dudley
An insightful drama perfectly echoing the corrosive coronavirus paranoia through a study of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In her second feature Amy Seimetz continues to intrigue us with an unsettling piece of cinema that is prescient yet refreshingly novel in exploring depression and disillusionment.
So inured is the central character (Amy/Sheil) to her impending demise she surfs the internet looking at human caskets, before switching to leather jackets in a sudden spurt of hope.
She Dies Tomorrow could be accused of humouring its heroine: have we reached such a state of self-pitying and narcissism that we are unable to front up to the current, admittedly mortifying state of affairs, that is no worse than our forebears suffered on a far more serious level with famine, plague and war?
But the malingering mood is fractured by the arrival of Amy’s friend Jane who encourages her to ‘buck up” her ideas: “Come on – I’m going to call you tomorrow” – Amy replies with the melodramatic “there is no tomorrow for me” to the tones of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor ‘Lacrimosa’.
She Dies Tomorrow morphs into a much more upbeat and often frivolous mode the following day at Jane’s birthday celebration, but the central premise of mortality still remains, and provides an ongoing rumination for the rest of the piece: we are all going to die eventually, it’s just a question of when.
This often dreamlike absurdist drama works an an amusing meditation on death, dressed up with an eclectic soundscape and plenty of visual fireworks Seimetz managing the tonal shifts with surprising grace and confidence. Jane sashays through the film in a pair of flowery pyjamas, her thoughts in perpetual ‘worried well” mode, consulting (and then seducing) her bemused doctor (Josh Lucas – who quickly returns home to roost while she imagines the sword of Damocles coming down on her at any given moment. Kate Lyn Sheil is a more tentative soul who soon joins her boyfriend in the desert for a becalmed romantic break that never gets off the ground after a bizarre pizza delivery. And yes, the audience is left as baffled – as it was during Upstream Color where Seimetz made her ground-breaking debut as Kris. Other characters are played by Katie Aselton and Chris Messina, who play Jane’s brother, and his wife who find themselves forced to entertain her in a vignette that will feel uncomfortably familiar.
This is very much a mood piece where traditional narrative pretensions fall by the way to reveal something altogether more experimental enlivened by Jay Keitel’s dazzling images. But like abstract art, the strong craft has to be there in the outset for the abstract to develop and Seimetz doesn’t convince us that it is, despite committed performances and visual creativity.
There are Lynchian moment – the scene where a weird tanner describes the method for making a jacket from a recently killed animal hide. But for the most part, She Dies is more a collection of episodes – that explore modern angst through addiction, loneliness and depression – than a cohesive drama offering a satisfying allover experience. She Dies Tomorrow’ is enjoyable while it lasts, but like Sushi – is soon forgotten. Let’s hope the collective trauma of Covid eventually suffers the same fate. MT
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