Local film critic Gordon Inman's take on the 2020 film She Dies Tomorrow and its relation to the coronavirus
Much has already been written about Amy Seimetz’s new apocalyptic horror film She Dies Tomorrow, including a push to label it the first “Covid Era” thriller, even if this was not the intention. Indeed, the parallels to our current global situation are reminiscent less of the coronavirus itself and more of the realization millions of Americans had in April or May: that the bad case of the flu or pneumonia we’d had in December/January/February may have been something much worse. The horror aspects of the film harken back to an earlier masterpiece, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, to the degree that an unknown menace seems to spread through a group of friends, then family, then strangers through nothing more than the power of suggestion. (It would be irresponsible not to mention Hideo Nakata’s Ringu as well, since both its plot and that of Seimetz’s new film hinge on a premonitory death date.)
The non-horror aspects, however, place Seimetz firmly back in her cinematic roots. In the first decade of the new century, a number of young filmmakers impulsively made a handful of films that surveyed the previously untapped aspects of interfamily relationships, sexuality among young city dwellers, and uncomfortable interactions among strangers. These films were made from nothing but love, cheap film stock, and unpaid collaboration, and they were unfortunately slapped with a label which I will not repeat out of respect for the artists, but for those who wish to guess it begins with the letter “m.” Seimetz brings back some of the insecurities of her early acting roles such as Tiny Furniture and Silver Bullets, and in particular, creates an almost unbearably relatable confrontation between an early victim of the film’s suggestive plague and her sister-in-law who’s just trying to celebrate her birthday. For those who would likely identify with the brother/husband, this is the film’s scariest scene.
An especially unsettling flashback near the end of the film allows the audience a modicum of context, in which it is revealed that the protagonist Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) ‘caught’ the knowledge that she would die the night before when she and a boyfriend ordered pizza and the unseen delivery man whispered the news into her partner’s ear. In the previous scene, the couple had decided to take mushrooms before ordering pizza, so the inciting incident of the film takes place under the influence of psilocybin. Could this, in fact, be the first anti-drug horror film of the new decade?* Incidentally, Seimetz reunites the romantic leads from her debut feature: the boyfriend is played by Kentucker Audley, and while Kate Lyn Sheil and Audley’s characters spent the length of Sun Don’t Shine as a clearly doomed romantic pairing, they are now portraying the patients zero for a doomed cinematic world.
Seimetz created another parallel between this film and Sun Don’t Shine: both her debut and She Dies Tomorrow feature a scene in which a major character wanders into a stranger’s backyard and begins to swim in their pool. In both instances, the character is dazed and seems to be instinctively treating her exhaustion with floatation. There were also a few non-sequitur sequences (such as Amy obsessed with the idea that her body must be taxidermied) that I hope Seimetz incorporates into her next film.
The film’s star, Kate Lyn Sheil, has been a best-kept secret of the American film world for the past decade. In another article, I referred to her as the 21st century equivalent to Lon Chaney, and indeed her performance in Seimetz’s 2012 debut Sun Don’t Shine practically renders the dialogue useless. In addition to some recognizable TV roles in House of Cards and The Girlfriend Experience, Sheil’s celebrity increased somewhat in 2016 thanks to Robert Greene’s excellent documentary Kate Plays Christine, the subject of which is her own creative process for the role of Christine Chubbuck (who notoriously killed herself on live TV in 1974). Since the excellent distribution company Neon is in charge of She Dies Tomorrow, her stock will hopefully rise this year.