When it hits Amy, it arrives in a rush.
She jams Elisabeth Kübler Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” into a single night, at most just hours. Amy (Katie Lyn Sheil) will blast through “denial” and “bargaining” and go straight to “acceptance.”
“I am going to die tomorrow.”
There’s nothing for it but to tell her friend Jane (Jane Adams) “I’m not crazy, I just have a feeling,” open some wine and put Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” Requiem on repeat on the turntable as she considers what to do with the last hours she has left.
Leaf blowing the hillside behind her new house, in the dark, seems like a handy distraction.
Actress (“Stranger Things,””Pet Sematary”) turned director (“Sun Don’t Shine”) Amy Seimetz wrestles with mortality and our understandable unease when grappling with it in “She Dies Tomorrow,” surveying a range of reactions via a modest cross-section of characters loosely within Amy’s orbit.
Because Amy’s “I’m going to die tomorrow” hunch is contagious.
Jane may counsel “Don’t do anything you’ll regret” by phone, and suggest past addictions have come back to put Amy in this state. But when artist-Jane stops fiddling with her microscope slides-blown-up-into “art,” she runs out into the night in pajamas to check on her. She cuts herself breaking into Amy’s house to comfort or confront her.
It is Amy’s irrational, resigned certainty that wins that argument. Next thing we know, Jane has barged, bleeding and in pajamas, into the birthday party of her brother’s (Chris Messina) bitchy girlfriend (Katie Aselton).
“I’m dying tomorrow! I’m dying tomorrow! I’m dying tomorrow!”
Thoughts of COVID 19″ and “contact tracing” burst in on this shockingly-timely and surreal ramble through The End of My Life experience. Who will dissolve into crying jags? Who will get drunk and giddy? Who’s going online to shop for urns, or worse, to look up ways to turn their mortal flesh (skin) into a cool jacket?
Seimetz doesn’t confine herself to a single character or a linear timeline, as Amy keeps dozing off and awakening, with a start, from flashbacks to a trip to a desert resort with an old beau, to earlier intimations that she might have seen this coming.
“She Dies Tomorrow” drifts away from Amy’s mania, showcasing Jane (Adams goes back to TV’s “Family Ties,” and was in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) as a more efficient “carrier” of the contagion.
A doctor (Josh Lucas) is shaken by her visit to an emergency room. A gay couple (Michelle Rodriguez, Olivia Taylor Dudley) instantly accepts (they’re stoned) her thesis and just rolls with bloodied Jane turning their pool pink.
The performances click, although I have to say nobody here generates much in the line of pathos. Even a hospital visit to a dying father prompted by one man’s (Tunde Adebimpe of “Rachel Getting Married”) “infection” by Jane comes off as cold.
“Hey, this is Amy,” Sheil deadpans into her voicemail, “I won’t be around tomorrow. Or any day after that. There’s no need to leave a message.”
Seimetz doesn’t so much wrestle with mortality as splatter it all over her characters, and us, provoking odd reactions, dark humor, arguments and morose acceptance.
But there’s a larger theme built into the panic attack contagion of “She Dies Tomorrow,” and that makes this self-conscious and arty take on the subject worthwhile. When you start thinking about death — yours, a close relative’s — it will swallow you whole if you let it. And that’s the reason “we never want to talk about it.” It’s hard to live when all you can think of it who’s “dying tomorrow.”
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual references, drug use and bloody images
Cast: Katie Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Josh Lucas, Tunde Adebimpe, Chris Messina and Michelle Rodriguez
Credits: Written and directed by Amy Seimetz. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:24