By Nadia Dalimonte
Jennifer Kim in She Dies Tomorrow (2020)
Could the release date of this film have been any more perceptive? Amy Seimetz’s existential horror, She Dies Tomorrow, centers on the universal fear of imminent death as an unexpected plague sweeps through a group of people. We are all going to die at some point, but if we knew exactly when, how would we live out the rest of our time? Seimetz, who also wrote the film, tackles this question in a way unlike anything I’ve seen.
Without much backstory for the characters or exposition for what is happening, the film is a totally immersive and sensory experience about contagious paranoia. The contagion begins with Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who is introduced in a dizzying state of dread. Wanting company, she calls her friend Jane (Jane Adams) in a quiet fright. When Jane arrives hours later, Amy tells her in utter seriousness that she is going to die tomorrow. Mustering an everyday sigh, Jane returns home…but she soon finds herself filled with the same unrelenting dread of knowing that she won’t live to see tomorrow either.
Not knowing where this plague is coming from, or how these characters are going to die, or what’s going to happen at any given moment makes this film incredibly intriguing to watch. The story is clouded in alluring mystery. Flashing lights that pull characters in are the only apparent indication that death is looming. Seimetz lingers on ambiguity for a while at first, to the point of being super close to testing my patience. But then she smartly shifts the focus on Jane, avoiding getting lost in the ambiguity. Given the clarity that something is in fact spreading, the film really starts to soar when the plague follows Jane home, due in part to a spectacular performance from Jane Adams. Her lived-in dread spreads like wildfire. Much like what I can imagine is a common response to impending doom, she doesn’t want to be alone when it happens. So she decides to visit her brother Jason (Chris Messina) on the eve of his wife Susan (Katie Aselton)’s birthday party at their home, where they’re hosting another couple.
Fitting the film like a glove, Jane Adams delivers a performance built on the senses and you absolutely never know what she’s going to do next. Her brother turning off the lights to bring out a birthday cake is enough to make her gasp in utter fear, as if she thought she just took her last breath. Another layer Adams plays to perfection is the truthfulness that comes to light when death is around, as she won't have another chance to say what’s on her mind.
The sense of dread in this film never lets up, as all the people at that birthday party are now filled with this plague Jane leaves behind. Tilly (Jennifer Kim), who’s been dating her boyfriend Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) well past the relationship’s expiry date, tells him her deepest thoughts about their partnership not going anywhere. Jason and Susan rush upstairs to their daughter’s room, waking her up with worrisome cries they blame on alcohol. We are all going to die at some point, but if we knew exactly when, who (if anyone) would we choose to spend the rest of our time with? Who would we choose to stop seeing? She Dies Tomorrow is an unexpectedly compelling film that evokes constant anxiety for what will happen to the characters and utilizes every second on screen to build visually on the senses.