There are all-too-typical scary movies with cornball monsters and victims tripping over everything in the night, and then there are films like SHE DIES TOMORROW. Writer/director Amy Seimetz’s film usurps horror conventions at every turn by avoiding cliches, spooling out intoxicating dread instead of jump-scares, and creating a subtle insidiousness that will have you puzzling over it long after the end credits roll. It’s a horror movie where the villain is some sort of unidentifiable presence, perhaps nothing more than a paranoid idea being passed along from one victim to the next, but it’s a ruthless predator, one claiming many victims. SHE DIES TOMORROW may not be as scary as some horror movies this year, but none have been as disturbing or thought-provoking.
The she in the film’s title is a woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Shiel). She’s just bought a new house, but rather than start enjoying her new digs, she becomes seized with an overwhelming sense that she is going to die the very next day. Amy is revealed to be a recovering alcoholic, but libation doesn’t seem to be the root of her problem. Instead, she seems driven by something unseen. The flashing lights – red and blue on her face – in the opening sequence seem to be the instigator, but are they real or only in her mind? No matter what it is, she quickly starts unraveling.
Amy is smart enough to ask for help when she calls her friend Jane (Jane Adams). She begs her to come over but Jane isn’t up to it. She’s exhausted after the long day and already committed to the birthday party that evening for her sister-in-law. Jane worries about her friend falling off the wagon though and high-tails it over there before the party. Soon enough, Amy’s worries seep into the psyche of Jane as well, and she begins babbling about the end of days once she gets home.
Is the intruder some sort of plague? A contagion? Do the blue and red lights represent blue and red states and the political destruction of the USA? Perhaps. God knows such metaphors would be appropriate, what with our current climate of hate and mistrust of the other side, but Seimetz wisely doesn’t show her hand. Instead, she shows the ‘infection’, whatever it may be, easily getting transmitted from one victim to the next without a definitive explanation.
Soon after leaving Amy’s, Jane heads to the party of her sister-in-law, dressed only in pajamas. It doesn’t take long before she too starts proclaiming that she is going to die tomorrow to all who will listen, even though she can offer her fellow partygoers no proof. Not long after, her calmy rationale brother Jason (Chris Messina) starts getting worked up by an impending sense of doom himself.
What makes the film so effective is that the terror passing from one person to another is virtually invisible. Seimetz instead uses sound design, shadowy lighting, a sense of extreme isolation, and a tony cast to make the horrors play as wholly believable. (Indeed, Adams is a Tony winner.)
Seimetz keeps things subtle too, never overplaying a moment. Her sensibilities here reminded me of David Lynch’s reboot of his TWIN PEAKS franchise two years ago on Showtime, both trafficking in all sorts of dreaminess and madness. Seimetz is likely lampooning the tropes of horror just as Lynch did too. She also is making vivid digs at the shortcomings of affluent society. Those privileged to buy homes and have pretentious parties where the discussion is dolphin sex may think they’re above primal fears, but Seimetz is showing how susceptible everyone is.
The film was made months and months ago, but it cannot help but be interpreted as a commentary on our pandemic era as well. No one in SHE DIES TOMORROW believes someone’s proclamations of death until it gets its grips on them too. It doesn’t seem too far from those idiots in the nation still refusing to wear masks even though COVID-19 is spreading all around them like wildfire? Of course, Seimetz’s timing is a coincidence, but its horrors seem remarkably prescient. That in itself is terrifying, in addition to all the frightening elements on display in this unsettling 2020 release.