Given that Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) has just moved into a new home, you’d think she’d be excited about the future but that couldn’t be further from the truth as Amy is utterly convinced she has no future. In fact, she is almost totally consumed by the unshakeable feeling that she is going to die the very next day.
A visit from friend Jane (Jane Adams) does nothing to lighten Amy’s mood and Jane’s initial doubts about Amy’s outlandish claims are in no way helped by the realisation that the previously alcohol dependent Amy has fallen off the wagon in no uncertain terms, as it seems that’s she seen off the best part of a couple of bottles of wine.
Knowing there’s little else that can be done at that point to drag Amy out of her fug, Jane decides to leave and carry on with the rest of her day but it isn’t long before ominous feelings begin to seep into her mind too. A worried Jane tries to get in touch with Amy, but Amy isn’t answering her phone…
Writer/director Amy Seimetz’s subject matter – an invisible contagion threatening to become a pandemic – has become increasingly familiar and even more timely since it was made but it’s given an unusual, unsensational twist in which the infected are not the slavering, rabid maniacs of so many a tale. Plagued by dreamy, random visions, mysterious light shows and distant, rusty voices, those facing the ultimate existential crisis have all too much time to consider their fates.
The focus of the first act is mostly on Amy, wandering her home both inside and out and doing the things anyone would do if they believed their time was up – that’s tending the garden in a sparkly dress and listening to the k.626 requiem mass by Mozart over and over again. She also goes internet browsing for cremation urns and leather jackets. You don’t want to know what material she’s going to use for a bespoke one.
Just as you think the movie will spend its time following Amy on what may or may not be her last hours on the planet, the story splits into two, picking up on Jane’s strand of the narrative to show how differently these two women will deal with their similar situations. Amy embarks upon on a lone quest to relive a significant event in her recent past while Jane heads straight for the comfort of others, namely her brother Jason and his wife Susan, at a birthday gathering in which the fracturing accord between Susan and Jane will prove the very least of everyone’s problems.
The performances of a Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams underline this interesting counterpoint, the rhythms of the film changing subtly depending on which one of them we’re following. Sheil portrays Amy as impassive on the surface, yet underneath it all there’s a deeply emotional soul which has trouble in revealing itself. Her fledgling relationship dealing with new boyfriend Craig (Kentucker Audley) are shot through with awkwardness, and it’s only when Amy is experiencing visions of her rapidly shortening future, in close-up to camera, that we really see the inner turmoil.
Jane wears her heart on her sleeve, wanting to be liked, keen to do the right thing, needing that social contact. It’s her desire not to as aloof and blunt as Amy which ultimately endangers more and more of those around her, although Jane’s initial panic wipes out any further thought she may have about the wider implications of her condition. It’s only as Jane realises Amy will not be on hand to guide her that she is forced to take control and somehow give over her emotional side to the rational.
So, with its lack of drooling, blighted folks wreaking ever escalating havoc, you might well ask yourself if She Dies Tomorrow is actually a horror movie. Oh yes, it’s a horror movie, and then some. The growing chaos is felt on a far more personal level, with more devastating effect than a sweeping, gore-drenched action set-piece. The psychological terror is felt deeply and the eerie calm of its scenes adds greater weight to the dreadful consequences of personal contact.
There is blood, but it doesn’t flow in the bucketloads you may be expecting. There’s almost as much of it on the samples which Jane examines through her microscope as the smears on walls and work surfaces. Seimetz’s refusal to include so much as one gruesome on-screen confrontation, even in the final act, allows the viewer as much space as they dare to imagine just how terrible those final moments could be.
The lack of frenzied hand-wringing or hysterical over-reaction from the characters may throw those searching for the kinetic, breathless thrills of more conventional movies centred on mass infections but it’s the oppressive hush of She Dies Tomorrow which makes the tension almost unbearable at points. The absence of any kind of explosive, cathartic release becomes increasingly disturbing as the time ticks down and the shadow of inevitable doom grows larger. It’s a sense of dread you feel in your gut and the economical script isn’t going to let you off the hook with comforting answers.
She Dies Tomorrow’s refusal to explain even the most basic of queries about the rapidly worsening situation becomes a great strength, pushing aside those heroic figures attempting to fight back, throwing the spotlight – literally, in terms of the condition’s effects – on to those resigned to their fate, trying to make what little sense they can of the most extreme case of being reminded of one’s own mortality.
The cast is top-notch across the board, with familiar faces such as Michelle Rodriguez and Josh Lucas lending their talents to the production with effective cameo appearances. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are among the executive producers, so it would be all too easy – not to mention somewhat lazy – to file this alongside their mind bending, reality distorting works such as Resolution and The Endless but She Dies Tomorrow inhabits its own peculiar, oddly serene yet utterly devastating world.
Without so much as a jump scare or disgusting make-up effect, Amy Seimetz has created a profoundly unsettling, original treatment of an oft-used horror theme, leaving so much room for post-credits discussion that you may never get to the bottom of it. You may love this, you may hate this, but you’re unlikely to remain quiet about it.