She Dies Tomorrow

Kate Lyn Sheil

Great title, She Dies Tomorrow, full of “duh duh duuuh” foreboding. It’s directed and written by Amy Seimetz and stars Katy Lyn Sheil as a woman dealing with the aftermath of an emotional break-up. She does this initially by playing Mozart’s Requiem a lot and crushing dry leaves between her fingers, as if to feel the warp and weft of life for the last time, while looking at different styles of cremation urn online and also choosing an outfit for a special occasion… like lying in a casket, maybe?

The character Sheil is playing is called Amy and Seimetz herself not too long before setting out to make this movie broke up with the film-maker Shane Carruth in spectacular fashion – restraining orders and accusations of abuse flying about – so maybe this is a coded movie about Seimetz herself. An early doors drop-in of a Carruth-style psychedelic breakaway shot seems to be a nod in his direction.

Biographical background to one side, and the original impetus from the break-up more or less forgotten, what develops is a kind of intellectual version of It Follows, with the existential dread gripping Amy spreading outwards to whoever she comes in contact with. Amy’s friend Jane (Jane Adams) turns up to console Amy and goes away again, having achieved very little apart from picking up the urge to play Mozart’s Requiem herself. Jane is suddenly gripped by the certain knowledge that she is going to die “tomorrow” and rushes off to a dinner party she’d previously worked very hard to back out of to tell everyone assembled what’s about to befall her. They’re baffled and disconcerted. Jane is in her pyjamas.

Out on the highway, meanwhile, recovering alcoholic Amy is glugging vast amounts of wine while driving, possibly trying to hasten the impending death. And back at the party, suddenly Jane’s brother Jason is also seized by the realisation he, too, is going to die tomorrow – it’s not just ladies only – and soon so are fellow guests Susan (Katie Aselton), Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim).

Josh Lucas and Jane Adams
Jane comforts Doc



An orgy of seizing the day breaks out, with the afflicted characters all doing things some of which, if they don’t die, they are possibly going to regret.

You might not expect Michelle Rodriguez to turn up in a film like this, but there she is, down the line, also becoming contaminated by this fear, this meme hysterical. Makes a change from the need for speed in the Fast and Furious movies.

She’s a good actor, of course, with more range than you might expect from the sort of films that bring home the paychecks, but she’s in great company here, in a wonky drama that’s got some really really fantastic performances. I mean, look at Katie Aselton in a bitch-from-hell role, completely scary and utterly convincing.

It’s hard to avoid the fact that there is a touch of intellectual pretentiousness about She Dies Tomorrow. It strikes a pose as if to say something about the life, the universe and everything and then delivers insights that are hardly revelatory. Life is, like, you know, short and if we could embrace the fact of our own death it might help us squeeze some more joy out of everything as we jog along towards the abyss.

The production design by Ariel Vida is gorgeous and the look of it is too – the DP is Jay Keitel, who worked with Seimetz on The Girlfriend Experience (she co-wrote and co-created the TV spin-off of the Steven Soderbegh movie), and She Dies Tomorrow uses visuals tellingly, often to say the things that the characters won’t.

First world problems, white people (mostly) problems, a lot of breast beating about nothing. It’s easy to be dismissive. And yet She Dies Tomorrow does also catch at the lurking dread that all mortal people need to dismiss in order to make day-to-day living possible. Whether that’s something I want to be reminded about, I’m not so sure.





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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Materna

Lindsay Burdge and Jade Eshete on the subway

 

Not so much a film as four shorts held together by a framing device, Materna looks at women through the prism of the family – the mother, the daughter, the sister, the neice. All four stories and women are united for the briefest of moments on one of those New York subway journeys made unendurable by a male asshole running his mouth.

First the mother, Jean (Kate Lyn Sheil), a mo-cap artist aged about 35 being encouraged by her own mother to either get a man pronto or get her eggs frozen. Since part of Jean’s daily routine seems to consist of throwing up, her mother’s prayers already look to have been answered, though Jean might not see things that way.

Back to the interlinking subway carriage for a bit more ranting and threatening behaviour before meeting the daughter, Mona (Jade Eshete), an actor bouncing around at the lower end of success. Mona was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and her story is all about her fractious relationship with her mother, who would like her to return to the fold and is threatening to cut her loose completely if Mona won’t.

Lindsay Burdge plays Ruth, the sister, a conservative mom with a liberal brother, Gabe (Rory Culkin), who turns up one day at her house on a mission of mercy. This ends badly, with Gabe in a huge (and powerfully written) argument with Ruth and family taking in pretty much the gamut of culture-warrior issues from guns to gays, with the Black Lives/All Lives Matter deliberate bit of misunderstanding taken in en route.

And finally the neice (Assol Abdullina), a Kyrgyzstan-American back in the home country for the funeral of her uncle, and finding conservative patriarchy even more oppressive and secretive than she remembers.

Two of the actors, Assol Abdullina and Jade Eshete, co-wrote the script with director David Gutnik, and its stealthily delivered message appears to be one that both sides of the culture war might be able to agree on – that family asserts a more of a pull on the lives of women than it does on men. All four women feel that tug, for good and ill; that ranting loner on the subway is a man.

None of the stories are a bag of laughs, it must be said, and the film itself has no real dramatic throughline. The women find themselves together on the subway but they’re not “together” on the subway. Though, without getting too spoiler-y, that isn’t entirely true either.

Gutnik and the gang manage to pull a dramatic finish out of the bag and the whole film is a well made piece of largely on-the-hoof work done on a meagre budget. That said, the Kyrgyzstan sits slightly apart from the others. It looks different for a start, having been shot with a different crew (I”m guessing this from the multiple job title entries on the imdb), but it’s also the most complete story – there’s an arc, emotional beats, a shock reveal.

This is Gutnik’s feature debut after a handful of shorts and he’s already got another feature lined up and ready to go, Brighton Beach, a crime thriller set among the Russian-American gangsters of the titular New York neighbourhood. On this evidence, the omens are good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020