Amy Seimetz’s ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ Is Timely Existential Horror—and So Much More
In another year, this existential thriller wouldn’t feel quite so much like a horror film. But amid a devastating pandemic, it hits a little differently.
The most haunting thing about She Dies Tomorrow is that although its central character is certain she’s going to... well, you know... it’s almost impossible to nail down how she actually feels about it.
One would think that the most obvious reaction to one’s imminent demise would be terror. But as writer-director Amy Seimetz’s protagonist (also named Amy and played with transfixing subtlety by Kate Lyn Sheil) repeats the words “I’m going to die tomorrow” to anyone who will listen, that doesn’t seem to be her experience.
Seimetz, who co-created Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience, used the money she earned starring in 2019’s Pet Sematary remake to fund this film—which debuts Friday in select drive-ins and next weekend on VOD.
She Dies Tomorrow joins a growing number of artists who have unintentionally created art that feels perfectly fitted to our moment. The film obsesses over the proximity of death—the realization that despite whatever we might tell ourselves, death is all around us, waiting for us and everyone we love to stumble into its grasp sooner than we ever allowed ourselves to believe was possible.
Amy has just moved into a house as the film opens. She’s standing at her window, crying and stopping, downing wine and playing Mozart’s “Requiem, K. 626: Lacrimosa” on repeat while googling urns—a performance of sadness for an audience of one that Seimetz treats as simultaneously tragic and comical.
Soon enough Amy is drunkenly feeling up her wood floors in a sequin dress and mumbling to her friend, Jane, about how the wood was once alive and now it’s dead but useful. She wants Jane to repurpose her corpse into a leather jacket.
At first Amy’s insistence that she’s going to die smacks of suicidality—especially given the amount of wine she’s glugging in an apparent alcoholic relapse. But as Jane leaves her friend to her own devices out of frustration and sits down for a night of work photographing microscopic particles, the real horror takes shape in the form of a contagion: Jane, too, suddenly realizes beyond all doubt that she will die tomorrow.
As the film unfolds, character after character becomes convinced that they share the same fate. Jane’s brother, Jason (Chris Messina) and his wife, Susan, plainly inform their daughter that she is about to become an orphan. Their friends Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim) end a relationship that’s already dragged on months longer than it should have.
The heart of this movie is its intentional lack of heart—its dissociative remove. Its characters’ relationships are dysfunctional both before and after they become convinced they’re going to die, but the death revelation only creates more space between all of them as they impotently try to make sense of what to do next.
Neither Amy—the character nor the director—offers the simple answer of legible emotions. Everyone in this film treats their friends and family with marked detachment and, sometimes, callousness.
In lieu of emotions, She Dies Tomorrow chooses aesthetics and thematic loops as its primary language. It makes sense; in many ways, death as a concept and the fate that awaits us all elides words. It’s an unknowable void to be stared into and felt through.
Amy never really says how she feels about her proximity to death—and her silent responses speak to a deeper, more complex experience than simple fear or sorrow.
In one of the film’s most evocative moments, the camera crowds Amy’s face, as a pulsating array of blinding, colorful lights illuminates it. As the colors throb, micro-expressions flit across Amy’s face in rapid succession. Sometimes blue light illuminates a sorrowful expression and empty eyes; in other moments, Amy’s face hints at orgasmic euphoria, cast in red light that renders her irises black and almost demonic. With each new flash, Amy seems to find a new inflection within the liminal space between terror and ecstasy. The whimpers she releases could be expressions of panic or rapture; it’s impossible to tell.
Then, suddenly, Seimetz cuts to Amy showing a friend the house—making explicit the degree to which she must perform mundanity for those who cannot understand her condition.
It’s clear Amy is not suicidal per se, but her relationship with death might feel familiar to anyone who has spent any significant amount of time managing suicidal thoughts.
Death, for Amy, appears to be neither purely a relief nor a burden, but instead a constant bedfellow—a thing some of us see walking alongside us every day while others seem either blissfully unaware or insistently ignorant of its lingering presence. It is agonizing and paralyzing, but there’s also almost a twisted pleasure in the familiar, monotonous rut.
Jane’s relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan, speaks to a tension between those who feel viscerally close to death and those who do not. When Jane shows up to Susan’s birthday party, her sister-in-law is clearly not thrilled to see her.
One minute ago, Susan had dominated the room with a scintillating conversation about dolphin fucking. Then Jane shows up, moody and and murmuring about death. Their inability to functionally communicate fills the room with awkward silence.
Susan treats Jane’s art with condescension—taunting her by saying, “I mean you spend all your days looking deep into these small images, saying, ‘Oh, the flower is a universe!’” Jane, meanwhile, can’t make herself stay mentally present for a conversation about dolphin fucking, and Susan can’t stand it. The two cannot understand each other—that is, until the death fixation comes for Susan, too.
But while Susan and other characters seem to reel from the realization that they are going to die tomorrow, Amy treats it as a simple truth. She just wants to make sure that whenever it happens, someone gets her dead skin to a tannery while it’s still warm.
She Dies Tomorrow never reveals a backstory to Amy’s contagious realization of death. A flashback involving an old flame, magic mushrooms, and a pizza delivery gone wrong offers vague, almost comical hints but refuses the viewer any concrete understanding. It’s just as well—because once you’ve seen death waiting in front of you, everything else starts to feel irrelevant.
In this context, She Dies Tomorrow’s fluid treatment of time feels as fitting as it is coincidentally contemporary to our quarantined moment.
“Tomorrow,” in this context, really could be literal or figurative. It could refer to the day to come, but it also might as well be a week, month, or year from now. Its certainty is paralyzing and galvanizing—a deterrent from doing anything beyond wallowing on the floor, and yet somehow also a great motivator to dump your shitty boyfriend. But as She Dies Tomorrow’s trembling, vague ending indicates, it’s nearly impossible to know how to move forward when you’re stuck waiting for the moment to arrive.