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Basking in Raw Atmospheric Fear, ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ Is a Bone-Chilling Experience Made For The Pandemic Era

3 September 2020

Basking in Raw Atmospheric Fear, ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ Is a Bone-Chilling Experience Made For The Pandemic Era

After waking up convinced that she is going to die tomorrow, Amy’s carefully mended life begins to unravel. As her delusions of certain death become contagious to those around her, Amy and her friends’ lives spiral out of control in a tantalizing descent into madness.

Director: Amy Seimetz

Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Chris Messina

Year: 2020

Country: USA

Language: English

Runtime: 86 minutes

With The Plague, Albert Camus likens the inevitability of death to an incurable disease everyone will struggle with. She Dies Tomorrow looks to tap on these same fears and themes, infecting its characters with a deathly certainty that they are in the last hours of their lives.

While its premise might suggest sentimentality, the film is anything but. Raw fear, made grippingly visible by a solid cast, surrounds She Dies Tomorrow. Paired with harsh lighting and an unsettling amount of microscopic images, it’s a film that thrives under the skin. The film succeeds at nailing the indescribable anxiety and paranoia surrounding its theme, but its mileage of enjoyment will depend on the audience’s stomach for pure atmosphere. 

Coincidentally, the film feels ready-made for the pandemic era, with its plot eerily tracing both forwards and backwards the spread of its fortunately fictional disease. We are first introduced to Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who is mysteriously convinced that she will be dying the following day. She is soon visited by her friend, Jane (Jane Adams), who dismisses Amy’s fears. She is eventually afflicted as well but not before carelessly starting a daisy chain of infections.

She Dies Tomorrow is the second directorial feature of Amy Seimetz, who is perhaps best known for her work in the mumblecore films of the early 2000s. The movement’s influence is strongly felt through the film’s naturalistic, improvisational style of dialogue voiced by a cast of relative unknowns. Characters stamper throughout and go on awkward tangents, all in an effort to emulate everyday life.

On paper, it’s an endeavour that should serve to be potent for a horror film. Yet, She Dies Tomorrow falls into the same pitfall with this approach as most ‘mumblecore’ films. Even though the characters do sound like everyday people, they are everyday people that can come off as pretentious and unlikeable, making it difficult to root for their survival. 

While this is somewhat softened by the cast’s solid performances, the emotional weight they do supply is drowned out by self-important conversations that go nowhere. Even when it does reach out to grasp and reply to the big questions of existentialism, the film hardly makes any bold statements worthy of its visuals. It’s a formula that might simply be too ineffective in what is essentially a horror film, where having characters to care about is key.

She Dies Tomorrow does, however, kick off with a running start. Mumblecore’s influence rears up again with the film’s low cost aesthetic, doing an integral role in shaping the mood. Death comes for the characters not in the form of a skeleton with a scythe but in the slow, creeping atmosphere that eventually boils into suffocation. 

How this atmosphere is formed is straightforward but effective; there’s nothing too spectacular here but the fundamentals are sound. Between anxiously stumbling around in low-lit rooms, characters are crushed by harsh neons and unforgiving fluorescent. Hard cuts are aplenty, recklessly bouncing between characters and periods of time. Visceral images of microscopic cells point to the under-the-skin nature of the disease while eliciting nervousness synonymous with body horror.

With unforgiving ease, all these pokes and prods at the audience’s struggle with mortality. However, the film does struggle to keep up its pace as more characters start to be introduced to the mix. Their tendencies for overdramatic actions and expositions are initially unsettling when it can be reasoned to be the side effects of the disease. It is when these traits start to form into norms where the tension is progressively sapped.

Nevertheless, coming in at 86 minutes, the film will conclude before any fatal damage is done. She Dies Tomorrow is built more like a provocative feature-length thought experiment than a full-blown endeavour for a narrative. While it does not deliver any deep insights into the question posed, it vividly and uncomfortably brings to screen fears and anxieties that words often fail to capture. 

Faced with the big questions, She Dies Tomorrow looks to unsettle more so than to offer any reprieve. The world’s current struggle with a global pandemic will only make experiencing the film today all the more deliciously distressing.

She Dies Tomorrow will be available tomorrow for rental streaming on KinoLounge, a virtual cinema platform launched by Shaw Theatres Singapore dedicated to showcasing award-winning festival films.

Catch the film’s trailer below:

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There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.