Any film that uses Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem has my heart, so She Dies Tomorrow started on a high note for me. Mozart wrote his Requiem from his deathbed, and he actually died in the process of writing the Lacrimosa movement; it’s a pitch-perfect piece for a film focused on the acceptance of death.
In She Dies Tomorrow, Amy (Kate Lyn Shiel, The Sacrament) is convinced that she’s going to die tomorrow, and it’s contagious. It’s not a question of thinking she’s going to die, it’s knowing. She’s being forced with the finality of her own mortality. So what would you do with your last night?
With that in mind, the costume choices are very telling. Amy opts for a chic sequin dress, choosing to go out in style. It says a lot about the acceptance of her looming death; she’s not questioning it, she’s not fighting it, she’s just going to let it happen. If you have a sequin dress, when’s a better time to wear it?
Sheil is excellent as Amy; she has a stoic vulnerability as she comes to terms with the inevitability of her death. Everyone who comes to this conclusion reacts differently, moving through the stages of grief with different levels of intensity. Micro expressions and reactions carry so much weight. They communicate the stage at which they’re confronting their own impermanence.
The supporting cast is just as impressive, particularly Jane Adams (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Jane. Jane flurries from place to place, caught in a tizzy of anxiety about her own impending death. She’s shaken to her core and searching for answers, for meaning, for a connection… anything, really. If Amy’s sequin dress speaks to her acceptance, Jane’s run-out-of-the-house outfit of floral flannel pajamas is just as revealing.
Writer/Director Amy Seimetz (perhaps better known from her roles in Pet Sematary, Upstream Color and You’re Next) knows her way around a genre film. Her vision is stunning, with beautiful slow-motion moments that act as a kind of character vigil. Moments that grab your attention and cradle it gently, followed by sobering pace switches that snap you back to reality.
The use of color is impeccable. When Amy (and company) come face-to-face with the undisputed fact of their death, a kaleidoscopic wave of neon washes over them. Staring directly into the camera, we see the moment they come to terms with their fate. It’s gripping and gorgeous.
She Dies Tomorrow is a somber yet quirky meditation on our own mortality. It’s dripping with existential dread and rich with affirmations of our own anxieties. Each character is faced with the reality of their own existence and what exactly that means — for those that live, we all must die. But it’s the ambiguity of this death that’s perhaps the most challenging element of the film.
The film has a slow burn that dies out (pardon the pun) on its own. If you’re looking for a final violent confrontation or even some sort of concrete explanation or ending, you might want to adjust your expectations. She Dies Tomorrow ends not with a bang, but with a small, scared whisper.
It feels like a very personal film (perhaps because the main character shares the name of the writer/director, and the film itself stars many of her personal friends — including a fun little cameo from You’re Next director Adam Wingard). You get the sense that this rather hefty theme is something that she’s mulled over quite a bit. And I don’t think she’s alone in that; one of the reasons that She Dies Tomorrow is so successful is that death is an unavoidable eventuality.
We’ve all thought about it some time or another — what would you do if you found out you have one week to live, we so often ask — and the idea of being faced with such an immediate end is enough to make anyone uneasy. To keep it manageable, Seimetz pops in some quick jolts of humor — like a tonal defibrillator — to keep the film from getting too bogged down by its own weight.
With a rather large and completely universal theme matched with Jay Keitel’s impeccable cinematography and Seimetz’s deft directorial hand, She Dies Tomorrow is a moody, quirky, thought-provoking, and beautiful film. If you’re looking for something a little different, give it a try. It wouldn’t kill you.