It probably wasn’t the intended effect, but there was something soothing and comforting about Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow. It’s also probably a good guess that I wouldn’t have felt that way, say, six months ago – or in the alternate reality where there isn’t a pandemic, the same alternate reality that haunts me in my dreams every night. In those realities, I’m fairly sure I’d find Seimetz’s eerie, haunting film about the inevitability of death spooky and disturbing. Instead, now, I felt a serene sense of peace and calm.
Hearing the premise of the film doesn’t really prepare a viewer for what they’re about to see. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), despondent at her home, becomes aware that she will die tomorrow. There’s no real reason ever given, but she just knows this is the truth. Amy’s friend Jane (Jane Adams) stops by to console her friend, but by the time Jane leaves, now she is also convinced death is awaiting her the following day. Jane goes to a birthday party and the tone in the room slowly changes from, “Hey, Jane, you’re bringing us all down with all this death talk,” to everyone in the room also now realizing they will all die tomorrow.
Everything is a pandemic movie now. Even during movies I’ve just rewatched since all this started, I see allegories in everything from The Lost Boys to Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Every week there’s a “new movie of the pandemic,” because every movie is now about the pandemic. And how could it not be? All our lives are different, so of course we are going to watch everything through a different lens. And now here comes a movie where people come in contact with other people and the result is they all know the next day is their last.
The reason I mentioned earlier that the premise doesn’t really prepare a viewer for the experience is because, on its surface, it sounds like a “cool horror movie” like It Follows or You’re Next (You’re Next director Adam Wingard even makes an appearance in this movie.) But this isn’t a traditional horror movie. The people who learn their grim fate don’t react with horror; there’s almost a peaceful tranquility to the whole endeavor.
The movie itself is quite the mood itself, never showing anyone with any real sense of urgency. And the movie itself takes a cue from its characters, moving along at a nuanced pace, though it never feels slow, and still maintains a tight running time of under 90 minutes. Again, it’s a comforting ride for something so grim. (Also, I am not at all saying you will react to this movie the way I did. It has everything to do with the particular headspace I’m in at this moment.)
The notion of acceptance is what made me feel a bizarre calm. I’ve watched this play out with our current situation time and time again. There are people mentally fighting against what’s happening, still trying to hold on to a semblance of what their world was like back in February. I, too, did this for a while, but the realities of what became the devastating epicenter that was New York City made me realize, fairly quickly, life as I knew it was over for the considerable future. When I accepted this, I felt better. There’s always that weird moment when my brain is trying to convince me a terrible situation isn’t that bad. That it can still be easily fixed. That’s when things are at their most stressful. But once I accept, yes, this is bad, now let’s make the best of it? That’s when the stress alleviates.
The condemned in She Dies Tomorrow never panic. They accept their fate and, yes, try to make the best of it. Each person has a different interpretation of what this means, but certainly no one is racing into the local Burger King without a mask demanding to be served. Every last action is a testament to kindness, compassion, or just his or her own self-care and amusement. This is what I find comforting: where the first reaction to bad news isn’t selfishness. Instead, all the mental gymnastics of how to change their fates is replaced instead with what to do with the time they have left.
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