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.





She Dies Tomorrow – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Black Rock

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton in Black Rock

 

 

Three young women are chased around an island by three crazed ex-soldier guys in Katie Aselton’s boo-goes-there horror story which would slot nicely into the big book of feminist films if it weren’t for the gratuitous (oh come on) nudity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with god-given nakedness. But back to the film. Directed by Aselton and co-written with her partner, Mark Duplass, Black Rock takes three old schoolfriends, Aselton, Lake Bell and Katie Bosworth, sends them off to a remote island they used to visit as kids, but not before pointing out that one of the three did something bad with another of the trio’s boyfriend some years back, and that the wound is still suppurating.

Out on the island, the girls (“women” doesn’t seem quite right; “ladies” definitely not) bump into three ex-army guys, one of whom is a vague friend of a friend. But things go from uneasily friendly to extremely nasty in a short time after a bit of booze, some unwise campfire flirting with one of the soldiers, a rape attempt and retaliation in the form of a big lethal rock to the skull.

The other two guys – we have just learnt that they got dishonourable discharges for some seriously nasty shit out in Afghanistan – decides for justice in the form of death.

But I’m telling you the plot when what all you want to know about is the nudity. Well, you could say that it is justified by the story Aselton is telling, since two of the girls have swum out to a boat, failed to get into it and are now back on dry land in wet clothes and the quickest way to get warm is… take your clothes off?

Does it last long? No. Does it matter? Maybe, because though Aselton is a good actress (though her showing in The Puffy Chair is all I’m going on) I’m not sure about her as a director.

But she’s competent enough for a cat-and-mouse thriller that flirts with themes of sex, power and violence – Should women be able to cocktease for ever and get away with it? Is sex a form of power that women use over women too? – only to abandon them as the film slides into its final third.

Director Aselton moves things along briskly, gets decent “girls together” performances from her cast and knows how to squeeze atmosphere from a restless camera, minimal rig and a soundtrack of strings and washy synths.

But I’m not sure it’ll be remembered for any of those things, so much as being the film in which a female director asked her cast to get naked because the script strictly demanded it.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Black Rock – at Amazon

 

 

The Puffy Chair

Mark Duplass and Kathryn Aselton in The Puffy Chair

 

 

Here’s a simple story about Josh (Mark Duplass), his needy girlfriend (Kathryn Aselton), Josh’s hippie-dip brother (Rhett Wilkins) and their cross-country journey to take collection of an overstuffed couch-potato chair they just bought on ebay, and take it to the guys’ dad (played by Duplass’s dad, Larry Duplass).

 

Shot for $10,000 by first-timers, this is one of the handful of films first to be called “mumblecore” – Wikipedia tells me that the term was first applied at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2005 to a trio of films – this one, Joe Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth, and Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski (often called “the father of mumblecore”) But how many other mumblecore films earned their writer/directors a bungalow on the Universal lot, as The Puffy Chair has done?

 

The reasons for that are clear – in spite of its superficial commitment to a shoe-gazey, indie style of naturalism, this is a Hollywood movie, albeit one shot for buttons on a single handheld camera, a road movie in which most of the dialogue is improvised by Duplass and Aselton, who go into who knows what dark personal places (they’re affianced in real life) to paint a portrait of a relationship on the skids.

 

Why Hollywood wants the Duplasses is not because of their way with a tiny budget – that way madness lies – but their ability to deliver freshness, believability, a genuine emotional connection, and, more cynically, a new age demographic. The rank amateur looks of The Puffy Chair perfectly suit its theme – the general rubbishness of humans, particularly the male of the species, especially when it comes to the relationship thing.

 

Though it’s made by, and seems mostly to be about men, given its subject matter it’s quite likely that women might appreciate it more. Any boyfriends watching with them will most likely deny that they were finding any entertainment value in the fine features of Kathryn Aselton, a former Miss Maine Teen 1995.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2005

 

 

The Puffy Chair – at Amazon