Wednesday 26 August 2020

She Dies Tomorrow (USA 2020: Dir Amy Seimetz)

Actor/writer/producer/director Seimetz doesn't take the easy route in the films with which she's involved, whichever side of the camera she's on. Her directorial feature debut was 2012's Sun Don't Shine, a dark American road trip, and her acting choices have sometimes favoured complex or challenging pieces such as quasi sci fi pics Upstream Colour (2013) and The Reconstruction of William Zero (2014). And with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the directors of 2017 brain scrambler The Endless as producers, it's perhaps no wonder that Seimetz's second feature should be so elliptical, opaque and intense.

Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a woman dealing with the joint trauma of a relationship breakup and the process of recovering from alcoholism. She has become obsessed with the idea that she will die the following day, and has already started to research funeral urns and, even more problematically, leather jackets (she's hoping that her skin can be turned into one so something of her can live on after she passes). She talks to her best friend Jane (Jane Adams) who does her best to convince Amy that she's mistaken, a difficult situation not helped by Amy drinking again. But later that evening a strange form of transference occurs and Jane too believes that she will also die the day after. In her pyjamas, and in a severely distracted state, Jane drives to her brother Jason's house (Chris Messina) where there's a party going on for his wife Susan (Katie Aselton), also attended by friends Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim). Looking very out of place among the smart couples, dressed in her nightwear, Jane tries to convince Jason of her conviction that she will die the following day. And while the others politely ignore her or, in Susan's case castigate her for wanting to be the centre of attention, it's not long before the partygoers also succumb to thanatophobic thoughts.

Seimetz could not possibly have predicted the recent worldwide Pandemic, but many of the themes of She Dies Tomorrow resonate with the feelings of isolation and confusion which most have experienced at some point over the last few months. Her editorial choices, chopping up and reinserting pieces of the story into various points of the movie, also play into a rising feeling of disorientation, as the viewer struggles with what is presented to them.

The first shot in the film, showing Amy's boyfriend Craig (Kentucker Audley) glimpsed through a half open door, angrily smashing things and repeating the words "It's over" and "there's no tomorrow," signify someone coping with a breakup. But a later scene puts the opening into perspective: it is Craig who first seems to contract the 'sickness'. So when we first meet Amy she has returned from being with him back to her own home, where the feelings have already passed to her from Craig. Later on, Amy is seen with other men; Jane also looks bound to have sex with her doctor, but any contact is brief and unfulfilled, and none of these scenes provide anything conclusive. Among some of the 'infected' is the desire to speak the truth and make peace with their lives before their departure; others just continue to remain confused.

What She Dies Tomorrow lacks in story it makes up for in atmosphere. Snatches of classical music records play and are abruptly shut off: Amy awakens from a series of nightmares, seemingly not knowing where she is; and Jane, who makes art from micro organisms trapped under glass, wanders through the film, lost and petrified. The more I think about She Dies Tomorrow, the more I see it as a hyper-unreal extension of normal thoughts and fears, and perhaps the ultimate plea for understanding and an acceptance that it's OK not to be OK. It's a bewildering piece; frustrating and mesmerising at the same time: so just like life then.

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents She Dies Tomorrow on Curzon Home Cinema and Digital Download from 28 August

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