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CINEMA: The Grateful Dead

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SHE DIES TOMORROW (directed by Amy Seimetz, 86 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Now streaming on VOD, She Dies Tomorrow perfectly encapsulates the psychology — some would say fatalistic psychosis — of living in 2020. Written and directed by Amy Seimetz who was part of the mumblecore indie horror movement of the teens responsible for that odd sub-genre films that all starred AJ Bowen. She is back, with some familiar faces for her second solo feature outing that has her dropping the heavy dialog and taking to a highly visual and existential approach to a film that comes across as a surreal melancholic fever dream.

The film begins as recovering alcoholic Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) comes home and promptly gets shitfaced drunk while blasting Mozart. After a literal call for help, her friend Jane comes over and Amy drops the bombshell statement that she will be dying tomorrow and she wants Jane to be responsible for making sure a leather jacket is made from her remains. Jane, tired of her friend’s downward spiral of self-destruction, goes home, only to be charged with the same impulse. Later in the night Jane shows up disheveled at her brother’s birthday party and announces that she too will be dying tomorrow. From here the film morphs into a nihilistic cinematic chain letter as one person infects another, causing not only anger and depression as you’d expect, but the kind of catharsis you can only gain from accepting the fact that you will no doubt die.

If nothing else, the one thing we’ve all come to grips with and accept living in 2020 is the precarious nature of our own mortality. From North Korea, to murder hornets and now COVID-19, it feels like we are constantly re-evaluating our statistical chances of survival from one day to the next. It’s something that basically hijacked what could have been a great low-key alien abduction narrative and turned it into a metaphor for something more terrifyingly relevant: the ghastly knowledge that we live in a time when we could die tomorrow — anyone of us, and everyone of us. She Dies Tomorrow shows us that coming to grips with this pervasive and literally free-floating existential dread is freeing and poignant and that is central to the film’s innate, perfect truth. If you knew today was your last day alive, how would you live it?

Usually relegated to bit parts, Kate Lyn Sheil is now front and center and her magnetic performance serves as a believable and identifiable entry point to this phantasmagoric narrative, as onne woman’s descent into the knowledge of her own impending demise and the ensuing acceptance of her own fate is projected through a spectrum drenched in reds and greens, echoing the neo-Giallo films of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The rest of the cast are also mumblecore ex-pats doing an amazing job as the film cascades downwards from one character’s story to the next until it lands with a riveting emotional thud.  She Dies Tomorrow is the cinematic anthem of 2020, where Paul Thomas Anderson meets Dario Argento in this stylistically dense and emotional dissection of grief and acceptance.

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