‘She Dies Tomorrow,’ and You Just Might, Too

1 Comment

She Dies Tomorrow (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe

Director: Amy Seimetz

Running Time: 84 Minutes

Rating: R for Sexual and Drug-Fueled Weirdness

Release Date: July 31, 2020 (Drive-In Theaters)/August 7, 2020 (On Demand)

It’s hard to get your bearings straight when watching a movie like She Dies Tomorrow. The main characters have a profound lack of charisma, the protagonist seems to keep changing before any sort of story arc has been completed, and the tone and genre are more or less impossible to pin down. There’s an early scene in which initial protagonist Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) plays a recording of Mozart’s Lacrimosa over and over to the point that it feels like the film is skipping and repeating. This is all part and parcel of the premise, in which people are overcome by a contagious feeling in which they are convinced that they will no longer be alive come the next day. Weirdly, this doesn’t result in despair so much as a strikingly unique form of negatively focused enrapturement.

I’ve read other reviews of She Dies Tomorrow that describe it as scary in an existential sort of way, though not really a horror movie. But I’m not sure how else to categorize it. It may not be populated by goblins or ghouls, but a persistent sense of ennui crossed with enveloping paranoia sounds to me like just about the most terrifying thing anyone could possibly conceive of. It didn’t exactly feel that way while watching it, though, at least not the whole way through. The illness at the heart of the film is so low-key that the people who aren’t yet infected with it react to those who are mostly as they would to annoying social behavior. At those moments, it feels like a purposely off-putting comedy of manners. But now that I’ve had some room to process everything, I am struck more fully by the loneliness and miscommunication infused throughout.

Director Amy Seimetz works prolifically on both sides of the camera, and she has a tendency to pop up in blockbuster fare like Alien: Covenant and more straightforward horror pics like You’re Next. The budget for She Dies Tomorrow came from the paycheck she earned for acting in last year’s Pet Sematary remake, and this is definitely the work of someone confidently following her own particular muse with the financial freedom to do so. What we’re talking about here is a creator making an appeal for human connection via cinema, and I’m willing to answer the call.

She Dies Tomorrow is Recommended If You Like: Upstream Color, Jean Paul Sartre

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Requiems

Movie Review: The Resurrection of Loved Ones Leading to Disaster is a Tale as Old as Time in the Latest ‘Pet Sematary’

1 Comment

CREDIT: Kerry Hayes/Paramount Pictures

Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie

Directors: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for Roadside Accidents, Scratchings, Stabbings, and Creepy Voices With a Surprising Amount to Say

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Little kids often ask their parents what happens after we die, but they’re less inclined to follow up about what happens after we return from death. And yet, it isn’t like that latter question has gone unanswered. Speculation about that possibility has in fact been the domain of mythmakers for thousands of years. Stephen King is one of the most prominent mythmakers of the past few decades when it comes to our most pressing supernatural concerns, so the fact that Pet Sematary is only the latest one of his stories to be not only adapted but also re-adapted does not need to lead us to despair over the death of originality in our reboot culture. Instead, we should wonder why we need to keep re-telling these stories when their lessons should have been clear enough from the very beginning.

The setting is a sort of Anytime, USA in a way that demonstrates the limits of going back to nature, as Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz) move with their two young kids into a big house deep in the woods of rural Maine. This is the kind of creepy place where kids in animal masks march to bury dead animals in the title misspelled gravesite. Interestingly enough, the Creeds are not especially unnerved by this ritual, but if they were more in touch with the supernatural, they would realize that they should interpret the procession as an ominous warning. But instead, when their beloved cat Church is killed by a truck, Louis lets himself be convinced by their friendly but foolhardy neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) to bury Church in a spot that just screams, “Come here if you want to meddle where you don’t belong.”

It should be plainly obvious what disaster awaits the Creeds from this point, whether or not you’re familiar with King’s novel and/or the 1989 film. But the overwhelmingly crushing power of one mistake compounding into inescapable horror is effective nonetheless. The resurrections of Church and others result in some unholy combination of zombie and possession. The power of something familiar being just slightly off is profoundly unnerving. People have been warning each other for ages about the folly of what is attempted in Pet Sematary, and this edition does not offer much new, but it is still likely to make you shiver in your seat or laugh at the insanity.

Pet Sematary is Recommended If You Like: Stephen King’s Maine, The Orpheus myth, Mama

Grade: 3 out of 5 Wendigos

This Is a Movie Review: Sequel-Prequel ‘Alien: Covenant’ Follows the ‘Prometheus’ Template and Adds a Few Bizarre Details of Its Own

2 Comments

This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for the Usual Chest-Bursting Shenanigans

Release Date: May 19, 2017

When horror movies are successful enough to merit sequels, the follow-ups can either repeat the same scares or expand the mythology. They usually do both, with the latter generally growing in prominence as the series drags on, with the diminishing returns on the former become clearer and clearer. (They can also try to summon entirely new scares, but that is one of the most difficult tasks in all of moviemaking.) Ridley Scott’s Alien is pure horror, despite its sci-fi setting. When other directors took over for the first batch of sequels, their genres may have tended more towards action, but the mythology certainly blew out as well, what with cloning Ripley and hurtling hundreds of year into the future.

Now that Scott has taken back the reins, he has apparently decided that if crazy ideas are going to be the name of the day, he might as well underpin the franchise with his own peculiar philosophizing. Because otherwise, this would just be a rehash of intrepid spacefarers treading too far on the edge and getting ripped apart by lethally invasive extraterrestrials. That approach is not necessarily terrible, and Alien: Covenant does not avoid it entirely. Chest-bursting can no longer be as iconic as it was the first time, but it still packs a sickening kick, and there are other body parts to slice off and wear away with acid blood. And there are also some larger-scale action sequences, demonstrating Scott’s still vibrant eye for scale and knack for properly calibrating tension.

But Covenant truly excels when it gets weird. It bridges the gap, both temporally and thematically, between the original Alien and 2012 prequel Prometheus. The latter film started to answer the question of what made the original attack on the Nostromo possible, a question that nobody really ever asked. Covenant continues to answer the question, and while it is still unnecessary, the backstory on display is fascinating enough to justify itself.

The actors playing the human crew of the Covenant fulfill their duties, but it is android Michael Fassbender who is pulling the strings. Prometheus and Covenant are explicitly about creation myths and the limits of human ambition, and these fundamental themes of existence are represented and mercilessly toyed with by humanoid beings created by humans. Certain revelations come out squarely tsk-tsking against hubris, while other moments are more impenetrable with their messages. But that is no criticism. Traversing across the universe should be stunning, humbling, and mysterious, perhaps even to the point of incomprehensibility. What is the purpose, for example, of Fassbender teaching himself to play the flute? I cannot genuinely say that I know, except that it makes Alien: Covenant unforgettable.

Alien: Covenant is Recommended If You Like: Prometheus But Wish It Had Been Better, Even If You Thought It Was Good

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fingers