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She Dies Tomorrow takes the psychological fear of It Follows a step further

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Director Amy Seimetz crafts the perfect anxious monster

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Kate Lyn Sheil in close-up purple light in She Dies Tomorrow Photo: Neon

The genius of the horror movie It Follows was that the central monster could take any form. Anyone following the protagonist down the street could be the threat — there was no telling when or how it would show up. Amy Seimetz’s movie She Dies Tomorrow plays with that idea in an even more insidious way. There isn’t a monster at all. Instead, there’s just an idea.

It’s not immediately clear what’s going on in She Dies Tomorrow. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) wanders through her house with Mozart’s “Requiem” on repeat. In flashbacks, she interacts with her boyfriend Craig (Kentucker Audley), with the two of them exploring her new place and talking about past regrets.

How do these two timelines coalesce? The film’s central motor doesn’t become clear until Jane (Jane Adams) comes to check on Amy and is infuriated to find her drinking. Amy appears to be an addict who was in recovery and has leaped off the wagon, but she’s strangely calm in the face of Jane’s frustration. She’s going to die tomorrow, she tells Jane, and wants to make sure she’s turned into a leather jacket once she’s dead.

She Dies Tomorrow: Jane Adams holds a doctor who is crying Photo: Neon

At first, Jane dismisses what Amy’s saying, but the idea of death sticks in her head. Soon, Jane begins to believe that she, too, will die tomorrow. When she goes to her sister-in-law’s birthday party to feel less alone, she passes that germ of an idea on to others. Ideas are, of course, invisible, but Seimetz gives that fear of death a semblance of form in close-ups of the newly infected. Their features as they confront their impending deaths are lit by bright blue and red lights, contorting already-distressed expressions.

Their reactions range from violence to break-ups to panic attacks, but one thing remains the same: The inexorable sense of doom that hangs over the film only gets more and more potent, not least because Amy, its primary subject, seems so resigned to her fate. There’s no fighting against what’s about to happen, and even Amy’s attempts to control what happens to her body after she dies aren’t guarantees.

Seimetz’s vision of a spreading sense of disaster feels particularly apt given the prevailing dread and paranoia that have settled over 2020. But She Dies Tomorrow is more effective because Seimetz isn’t rushing to be topical. The fact that she gets there anyway is a rush. It’s not an easy film to take in — abrupt cuts, jarring shifts between realistic and fantasy-like scenes, and the overall lack of exposition put it more squarely in the experimental category than most mainstream films. Seimetz forgoes any clear catharsis, but that’s part of what makes the film so memorable, even separate from the context of 2020. The fear these people are experiencing binds them together, but the disparate ways in which they react to it isolates them, too.

Tunde Adebimpe crying in close-up in She Dies Tomorrow Photo: Neon

The movie ultimately doesn’t have much plot, but the point isn’t the story so much as it is the feeling. At the risk of spoiling what happens, there’s no explanation for the phenomenon gripping Amy and the people around her — and in fairness, the same usually goes for when such feelings are passed on in real life. Such moods are inexplicable, and also impossible to shake, and Seimetz capitalizes on that quality to make She Dies Tomorrow just as unsettling.

The closest thing the film has to an arc is in following Amy’s attempts to cope with the idea of dying. Though the film spends a good chunk of its runtime following Jane and the other people she’s carried the idea to (including Chris Messina, Josh Lucas, and Tunde Adebimpe), it always comes back to Amy, whose protest to Jane that she’s perfectly OK begins to fray. Of course she’s not OK; how could she be?

That question of OK-ness seeps out of the screen and into viewers’ heads, too, which is what makes She Dies Tomorrow so effective. Seimetz has crafted the perfect anxious monster, repeating an idea often enough to let it take root without explaining so much about it that it can be rationalized away. It’s all nestled within a dark — and at times, darkly funny — psychological horror movie.

She Dies Tomorrow is now available to rent on Amazon and other digital VOD services.