Tuesday, August 11, 2020

She Dies Tomorrow

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 6:00 PM

click to enlarge Kate Lyn Sheil as Amy in She Dies Tomorrow
  • Kate Lyn Sheil as Amy in She Dies Tomorrow

Wystan Hugh Auden won the Pulitzer Prize for his book-length poem "The Age of Anxiety" in 1948. To which I say, 1948? Whatever. Auden knew nothing of anxiety.

Fear? Certainly. Uncertainty? Probably. But when it comes to anxiety, the world of 1948 ain’t got nothing on 2020. There’s the slow creep of climate change, and the possibility of nuclear war never went away. Economic anxiety is real, even though it’s no excuse for racism. And if you’re a person of color, there’s the background hum of racism. Then there’s social media, which increasingly feels like a gun blasting weaponized anxiety directly into your face. We swim in anxiety to an extent Auden never thought possible.

That pervasive, contagious anxiety is what She Dies Tomorrow is all about. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a recovering alcoholic in the throes of a recent trauma, the details of which become clearer as the film progresses. Alone in her newly-purchased, almost empty house, she has an unexplained psychedelic experience and promptly falls off the wagon. She calls her friend Jane (Jane Adams) for comfort, and puts on her sparkliest dress. When Jane arrives, Amy tells her the secret: She has an overwhelming sense that death is coming for her when the next sun rises.

Jane, a biologist, has a skeptical view of Amy’s Thanatos ideation. Sure, we’re all going to die at some point. But tomorrow? Judging from the way her alcoholic friend is sucking down white wine, she’s in danger of a massive hangover tomorrow, but probably not death. But Amy is insistent. She’s going to die tomorrow, and her final wish is for her skin to be used to make a cool leather jacket.
click to enlarge Jane Adams comforts her doctor in She Dies Tomorrow
  • Jane Adams comforts her doctor in She Dies Tomorrow
Jane chalks it up to the babbling of a drunk, tells Amy to get some rest, and plans on checking up on her tomorrow. Relapses happen. But when she gets home, she has a psychedelic experience of her own. Jane is seized with a sudden fear that she is going to die tomorrow. Not even a fear, really—more like a resigned certainty.

Jane was trying to avoid her sister-in-law Susan’s (Katie Aselton) birthday party, but alarmed by her new knowledge of imminent demise, she shows up in her pajamas. Soon, her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and party guests Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim) are also convinced they’re about to kick the bucket. What you would do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow is a perennial party game question, and the victims of Amy’s fearful contagion all have different ideas for terminal activities. A surprisingly large number of them involve doing some killing of their own.

Writer/producer/director Amy Seimetz is, like Greta Gerwig and Josephine Decker, a product of the indie underground. She was a producer on Barry Jenkins’ first film Medicine for Melancholy and acted in Gaby on the Roof in July and Tiny Furniture. She has a Memphis connection, having starred in Kentucker Audley’s Open Five as an out-of-towner being introduced to the joys of the Bluff City. Audley, whom she directed with Sheil in Sun Don't Shine, stars in flashbacks as Amy’s boyfriend Craig, whose fate goes a long way toward explaining the origin of this plague of fear.

Or maybe not. She Dies Tomorrow may sound like a great grindhouse horror title, but this film is indie to its core. Seimetz is unconcerned with slashing, splattering, or answering questions, only conjuring a mood of pervasive anxiety. After all, if your questions about the future had answers, you wouldn’t have anxiety, would you? With some beautiful imagery, natural acting, and a dash of gallows humor, Seimetz channels the unquiet spirit of the age. Call it Panic Attack: The Motion Picture.

She Dies Tomorrow is playing at the Malco Summer Quartet Drive-In.

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