Amy Seimetz‘s latest thriller is sure to polarise audiences but as a creepy thriller and allegory for depression, it’s spot on. I’ve written before about my love of horror films that have something going on beneath the surface. If you wanted to be incredibly reductive, you might say The Babadook is an allegory for grief, It Follows for venereal disease, The Ritual for guilt, etc. These are brilliant films in their own right, but are given an added layer which makes them more rewarding on a rewatch.
Not many filmmakers have attempted to do the same thing with depression, partly I suspect because of the implications of equating mental illness with certain traits of the horror genre. There is certainly a question of taste in doing so, and a risk of trivialising an issue that affects so many people. There have been a couple of films that use depression/suicide as subtext and they invariably feel misjudged and messy.
She Dies Tomorrow cleverly avoids these issues by focusing more on the social effects of mental illness; the way it can affect friends and family, and how society can often completely fail to help, or even empathise, with those who suffering.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) walks through her new apartment in a daze. She calls her friend Jane and tells her that she’s going to die tomorrow. Jane (Jane Adams) dismisses her as acting “weird” then leaves. Later Jane goes to a party and starts behaving erratically, telling the guests that she’s going to die tomorrow too. So begins a sometimes inspired, sometimes slightly laboured examination of the way death and depression impacts social interactions in a myriad of ways.
The excellent cast sell the premise really well, and demonstrate the varying reactions to the idea of their imminent death. There is a refreshing mix of new talent and familiar faces, such as recognisable actors such as Chris Messina, Michelle Rodriguez and Josh Lucas. Kate Lynn Sheil gives an enigmatic performance that takes on new meaning on a re-watch, but the standout for me was Jane Adams (from Happiness and Frasier) as the second victim, who accomplishes the difficult task of being sympathetic and funny, while still convincingly annoying the hell out of the rest of the characters.
The constant refrain of “I’m going to die tomorrow” can at times be a bit repetitive, but this is the point. Talking about your own mental illness is still seen as taboo, and She Dies Tomorrow is a great representation of this – characters are constantly trying to avoid talking about it, and get increasingly annoyed, disturbed and put out by their friends’ erratic behaviour. They don’t want to engage with someone who is such a downer, and this is the crux of the film. People suffering from depression can seem obnoxious, or annoying, but by dismissing them you diminish the problem.
The non-linear story structure is also interesting but does feel incomplete. Amy’s storyline, and her doomed relationship, is handled effectively, with a suitably cryptic conclusion, but all the other plot threads are just left hanging. It really could have used a proper final act, rather than just ending. As it is this feels like two thirds of a great film, which is still better than most, but still leaves you wanting more.
Some of the genre conventions recall horror movies like Pontypool, a great zombie film where the infection is spread through language rather than bites. However She Dies Tomorrow feels altogether more eerie and abstract, along similar lines to Kiyoshi Kurosawa‘s Cure and Lars Von Trier‘s Melancholia, and this tone, along with the repeated use of Mozart’s Lacrimosa makes it a truly unnerving and haunting experience.
Sometimes funny and sometimes baffling, She Dies Tomorrow might not be for everyone, but it’s a thought-provoking and intriguing thriller nonetheless, with a fresh, vital feel. It’s certainly more mature and grounded than other attempts to bring depression into a horror setting, and shows Seimetz as a force to be reckoned with.