In writer-director Amy Seimetz's "She Dies Tomorrow," fear is the virus, and a relapsing alcoholic is the carrier. The idea is unsettling, but the film's focus is so broad that it only warrants a response of "so … ?".
"She Dies Tomorrow" examines depression and anxiety. The strength here is how such states are romanticized, mundane and inexplicably scary. However, there's a lack of a plot past "here's what these feelings look like." The movie hops along at a frustratingly muted pace as scenes beg to be louder.
Seimetz opens the movie on a couple in the midst of a fight. This couple, Amy (played by Kate Lyn Sheil) and Craig (Kentucker Audley), is the entry point for the outbreak of fear. (Give Seimetz credit for the timeliness of the idea.)
At first, "She Dies Tomorrow" seems to be about Amy, a newly-single homeowner who is relapsing into drinking. Amy keeps listening to a vinyl of Mozart's final work, "Lacimosa," the title derived from "Our Lady of Sorrows." As the record spins, Amy longs to feel anything, shops online, blows leaves at night, then calls Jane (played by Jane Adams) to say, "I'm going to die tomorrow."
Like Amy, Jane is lonely, empathetic and open to the idea that she, too, will die tomorrow. A pattern starts, the idea of dying tomorrow is stated, casually disregarded, then suddenly believed. We see characters go from scoffing to breathlessly realizing, "Yeah, this is going to happen." The idea infiltrates Jane's sister-in-law's birthday party.
Adams' wide-eyed performance is the best part of the movie. An interaction with a hospital doctor (Josh Lucas), who also begins to believe the idea of dying tomorrow, is darkly hilarious, similar to the tone of Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." Seimetz then shows the idea affecting other couples at the party, and the movie begins to lose its luster. By the time we see how the fear affects characters played by Chris Messina, Katie Asleton, Tunde Adebimpe and Jennifer Kim, we get it — everyone's depressed.
Casting a wide net, Seimetz loses the edge of dark comedy in Jane's story and drama of Amy's story. What could be an exploration of those genuinely startling emotions that come with depression becomes a watered down mumblecore experiment.
Near the hospital bed of his dying father, Adebimpe tells Kim that they should've broken up a long time ago. Messina and Asleton run to their daughters' room in a frenzy, announcing the news then falling asleep. Suddenly, Michelle Rodriguez is popping up, grinning and hanging out by a pool with nothing else to do. Cool. These are all beautiful people, and one of them, Adebimpe, is the actual lead singer of the indie rock band TV on the Radio, so it's not inaccurate to think they're doing all right.
Depression, anxiety and fear of mortality do exist, but the further Seimetz gets away from that idea, the more aggravating it gets, especially when you consider today's climate. As relatable and powerful as "She Dies Tomorrow" is in parts, the longer it runs away from Amy and Jane's stories, the more it reads as disingenuous. The point gets watered down into a moody mess, a soup of middle-to-upper class people sighing. At a time like this, who can muster anything past "so … ?"
'SHE DIES TOMORROW'
STARRING: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Asleton and Chris Messina.
DIRECTOR: Amy Seimetz.
NOW AVAILABLE: To rent on demand.
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 26 mins.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted). Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For language, some sexual references, drug use and bloody images.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)