What would you do if you woke up knowing you were going to die tomorrow? Writer-director Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience, Sun Don’t Shine) adds a new dimension to this compelling hook by making the thought contagious in a way that feels unsettlingly relevant in our ongoing Covid era.
Protagonist Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who seems to have nothing to occupy her time beyond moping around her home even before becoming convinced of her impending demise, confesses her premonition to best friend Jane (Jane Adams). Jane then goes to a birthday party for her sister-in-law Susan (Katie Aselton), where she comes down with the same conviction as Amy and infects all the other party guests.
She Dies Tomorrow has a banging concept and plenty of great ideas, but they never fully gel. Sudden jolts of sound and image, for instance, present a theoretically interesting take on the “jump scare” concept, but in practice, it comes across more ridiculous than eerie. A twee sense of ennui smothers the entire thing like a wet blanket over a fledgling fire, too timid to fully lean into its potential for nihilistic pitch-dark comedy or truly unsettling horror. It has the feeling of a project with stellar potential rushed through the development process far too fast—put into production on a first draft composed in a weekend bender when it would have been much better served with a few rounds of edits.
Strong sequences are interspersed with bouts of filler that are aggravatingly close yet so far from being something worth writing home about. Susan’s dinner party is painfully awkward in a way that puts most unremarkable real-life dinner parties to shame; a dinner party where dolphins are discussed non-ironically as “cool” because they are “humans without society” and then someone quotes Albert Camus and suddenly I’m fighting the urge to start ripping out my own hair.
The film is full of moments like these—ridiculous, but in a staid sort of way that does not inspire joy or terror so much as an aggrieved eye roll. When Amy tells Jane over the phone that she’s “not doing well,” she proceeds to evidence how poorly she’s doing by listening to Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor” on a loop. On vinyl. By the last time that iconic, arguably somewhat over-used, mass is played over the course of this 84-minute film I was just about ready to scream. A little “Lacrimosa” goes a long way, and this film does not just hit its saturation point but races past it at high speed.
The back third of She Dies Tomorrow commits to horror more fully and does a more convincing job of maintaining a compellingly creepy vibe, but my apathy had already long settled in. It’s an ensemble piece full of non-entities I do not give one whit about. Emotionally, the film plays as earnest yet ineffective; the writing simply isn’t there.
In spite of the incredibly strong concept at its core, She Dies Tomorrow is best appreciated first and foremost as a visual experience. Jay Keitel’s cinematography is gorgeous. Using Jane’s profession as a scientist to thread mesmerizing microscopic imagery through the film, emphasizing the viral nature of the thoughts plaguing Amy and her friends, is a truly inspired decision. Beyond microscopy, the film represents its contagious sense of doom with colorful strobe lights in a similarly effective fashion.
Overall, Seimetz’s eye for visual storytelling shines as clearly as her dialogue often flounders. All in all, it makes for a film full of great ideas and stellar imagery that, somewhat infuriatingly, adds up to significantly less than the sum of its promising parts.
She Dies Tomorrow is now playing in select drive-in theaters and releases on VOD Friday, August 7.
Header Image Source: NEON