SXSW 2020 Review: Despair Goes Viral in Amy Seimetz’s Killer “She Dies Tomorrow”

“We’re all going to die, we should be able to talk about,” says Jane (Jane Adams), about as comfortable discussing mortality in “She Dies Tomorrow” as she is in the flowery pajamas she wears slinking into her brother Jason’s house. His wife Susan (Katie Aselton) would rather talk about anything else – dolphin husbandry, in fact – but while Jane is clearly on the different wavelength than everyone else in the room, she makes some sense in a world that seems to have gone mad, inspiring separate conversations between both Jason (Chris Messina) and Susan and their friends Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim) in which doubt sets into their relationships simply based on how they react to Jane’s certainty that she’s about to kick the bucket.

Even if “She Dies Tomorrow” didn’t arrive in the midst of an actual pandemic – the timing of its planned premiere at SXSW couldn’t make the film any eerier – it is a film of the moment in grappling with how despair can be contagious, though thanks to Seimetz’s artistry, that’s likely to prove true generations from now as much as today. Though a thriving acting career and her work on the first two seasons of “The Girlfriend Experience” kept her busy, Seimetz makes a blazingly original return to the big screen eight years after her sweaty Florida thriller “Sun Don’t Shine” that defies any easy description, as funny as it is harrowing and bends ideas from sci-fi and horror films towards the notion that the scariest, strange and inexplicable behavior is much a part of our humanity as rational thinking and empathy.

Unfortunately, it’s the former that seems to be winning out when “She Dies Tomorrow” begins, not with Jane, but her friend Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) has just moved into a new house, and while the emptiness of it may make it feel like it’s haunted, its new tenant actually is. Seimetz laces in memories of a past flame (Kentucker Audley, in a nice nod to “Sun Don’t Shine” fans) that continues to flicker in her mind, but an inescapable feeling of dread has left her to keep returning the needle to the top of the turntable to play Mozart’s “Requiem” as she gets to know her new place as if it were a new lover that doesn’t entirely seem to return her affection. Sheil, so effective at letting her guard down from presenting herself so poised at first, is exquisite as Amy, completely consumed by a sense of defeat, yet curious as to whether the right response is to give into it or try to fight it, confidently telling Jane that she’ll be dead by dawn yet liberated by the thought when it means she can detach herself from societal norms without consequence, becoming part of what’s seductive enough for Jane to catch the feeling and perhaps spreading it to others.

While “Sun Don’t Shine” was so galvanizing in how it felt completely out of control, “She Dies Tomorrow” seems like the work of a filmmaker in total command over an ever-increasing arsenal of skills, toying with the senses with her bold uses of color throughout, unsettling sonic transitions and indelible shot compositions with director of photography Jay Keitel. Like the characters she follows, anxiety can give way to exhilaration at any given moment and while Seimetz reflects a world that feels paralyzed and unable to change course when facing impending doom, it’s invigorating works of art such as this that surely make you think it can turn towards the better.

“She Dies Tomorrow” is now available on Amazon, iTunes, Fandango Now and Google Play, as well as playing at select drive-ins.

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