The brilliant actor, director and producer Amy Seimetz made her directorial debut in 2012 with the hazy, sun-drenched lovers-on-the-run film "Sun Don't Shine," starring Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley. Although it's been eight years between her debut and her follow-up film, "She Dies Tomorrow," Seimetz has been very busy in the interim. She's co-directed "The Girlfriend Experience" series on Showtime, directed episodes of "Atlanta" and acted in many, many films and TV shows, including "The Killing," "Stranger Things," "Alien: Covenant" and "Pet Sematary," just to name a few.
But it's a treat to watch Seimetz return to something that is so singularly of her own vision, especially the dark, moody and atmospheric "She Dies Tomorrow," which also stars Sheil and Audley. Things are still hazy and stylishly evocative. But as a filmmaker, Seimetz boldly leans into narrative ambiguity and metaphor, deftly manipulating film form and sound to craft this eerie, lyrical tone poem about what it's like to be alone, consumed by thoughts of your own death.
The premise is simple, and at 84 minutes, Seimetz keeps it lean, efficient and mysterious. It's the story of a virus of sorts that's passed from person to person, but the pathogen is an idea: the knowing that you will die tomorrow. It's not a phobia, or paranoia (though it manifests that way in some), but it's merely the knowledge of "I am going to die tomorrow" that permeates the brain. What would you do if you knew? Drive to the hospital? Panic? Break up? Grieve? Drink? All of the above?
Sheil is the patient zero, a woman named Amy, whose tearful, mascara-streaked eyes bookend the film. Sheil, who is essentially the Meryl Streep of the micro-indie movie world, is a fascinating actor, with doleful blue eyes and a sense of quiet interiority that creates for a magnetically laconic screen presence. Seimetz lets us watch Amy as she drifts and drapes herself across her empty, half-occupied home listening to Mozart's Lacrimosa, drinking wine, Googling urns and leather jackets and starting bonfires. She wakes up gasping from dreams about an old lover (Audley); she asks her friend Jane (Jane Adams) to come over. Jane then goes to a birthday party at the home of her brother (Chris Messina) and sister-in-law (Katie Aselton), and the infection spreads.
Seimetz's camera lurks, as if eavesdropping from another room, until it confronts (the cinematography is by Jay Keitel). Using simple but effective lighting, sound and editing techniques, coupled with performance, Seimetz creates a terrifyingly unsettling experience of transmission. Editing and sound are superbly intertwined into an unsteady rhythm, as editor Kate Brokaw's cutting lulls and lingers before it smashes. The sound design whooshes and sings, then cuts out, a hush falling, almost as though the film is breathing, and then suddenly not. With a sparse script, this mastery of film craft and form fills in the rest, creating a sensory cinematic experience of what the characters undergo emotionally.
Seimetz embraces formal experimentation and narrative ambiguity in "She Dies Tomorrow," which is a sort of cinematic Rorschach test: It's about whatever you want to read into it. It's the story of a plague, it's the story of isolation, and depression, and compulsively pondering your own death even if you don't want to. But as Amy bids adieu to an unseen person, acknowledging the short but, "really nice time that we spent together," it's also a film about grief, and loss, and saying goodbye. Currently, we all have ample material to read into "She Dies Tomorrow," a film about life, death, and how we face both.
'SHE DIES TOMORROW'
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Michelle Rodriguez, Josh Lucas.
Directed by Amy Seimetz..
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Rated R for language, some sexual references, drug use and bloody images.
In drive-in theaters and available on demand Friday
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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.