Early into Amy Seimetz’ latest film She Dies Tomorrow, the pervasive sense of dread her self-named protagonist can’t seem to shake feels like any other indie flick depiction of suicidal depression. It’s no less affecting for that familiarity, but it serves to ease the viewer into the sense they have been here before, either in their own lives or in a darkened arthouse for ninety minutes of a super 16mm approximation of someone else’s.

But this isn’t the usual beautifully-photographed navel-gazer about mental illness for the IFC set. Though the film begins with Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) and her own obsession with thinking she’s going to die tomorrow, her specific condition becomes a memetic disease, a thought-virus she spreads first to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), and then through Jane, everyone she comes into contact with. As the film progresses, anyone to whom this pessimistic surety is vocalized finds themselves gripped with the same imprisoning thought. “I am going to die tomorrow.”

As such, She Dies Tomorrow, with its brilliant staging of social isolation and darkly comic look at certain death, is being touted as the Covid-19 movie for our times. Despite opening with the economic freedom of a woman who has just bought a house, it does succeed in presaging the unique and exhausting ennui of quarantine life. At one point, Amy drinks wine and does internet research on being posthumously turned into an expensive leather jacket. It’s presented with such unadorned honesty as to be deeply maudlin and absolutely hilarious at the same time.

That dual focus is a big part of what makes this film work so well. It is short, patient and at times repetitive, but it rings like a mantra, atonal in its long take portraitrature of loneliness at brutality. This is a movie that begins so languid and morose that it seems insufferable, until Amy’s condition shifts to a truly confounding ensemble cast, ranging from Chris Messina and Katie Aselton to TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Michelle Rodriguez. It transforms the film from a single focus mumblecore thriller to something like a hyper-condensed Robert Altman film.

Perhaps the most striking element of the film lies in Seimetz’ visual shorthand for these complex emotions, even more so than it does within the distinctly dark comedy of its performances. Lyn Sheil and Adams, in particular, deliver stunning work, but it’s in the way Seimetz chooses to make manifest her characters’ inner turmoil. The frenetic editing and the trippy, near-seizure inducing lighting schemes combine to disorient the viewer while illuminating what we can only otherwise struggle to read in the actors’ collective gaze.

Seimetz has, above all else, made a thrilling, pseudo-horror film about the inescapability of anxiety, finding within the unfortunate condition a kind of unsettling spectacle. But in the sharing, it also becomes its own sort of comfort. It’s no mistake that the film’s nascent humor flourishes as more of its supporting players begin to understand the bewildering predicament of its central figure. Like the Mozart’s “Requiem” needle drop that repeats throughout the film, it begins with a thudding, numbing and overpowering of the senses, but slowly, it transforms into a reassuring punchline.

Summary
Seimetz has, above all else, made a thrilling, pseudo-horror film about the inescapability of anxiety, finding within the unfortunate condition a kind of unsettling spectacle.
74 %
Painfully relevant
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