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

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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

‘Birds of Prey’ Just Lets Harley Quinn Do Whatever the Hell She Wants

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

Director: Cathy Yan

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: R for So Many Broken Bones and Direct Bullet Hits

Release Date: February 7, 2020

The full title of Birds of Prey is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), but a better moniker would have been Harley Queen (and also the Birds of Prey [Sort Of] Form by the End). I’ve never really known the titular psychologist to be a member of any of the former iterations of this female superteam, though to all you DC devotees out there, feel free to let me know if I’ve been missing out on anything important in the comics. But regardless of how the source material goes, Margot Robbie’s version of Harley is never fully committed to being a Bird of Prey. But while the emphasis in the title may be misplaced, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is bad. What it does mean is that director Cathy Yan and her ensemble are willing to do whatever the hell they want, for better and worse.

It starts out promisingly and invigoratingly enough, as Harley tells us her story in John Kricfalusi-style animated form from nun-run orphanage to PhD to the Clown Prince of Crime’s arm candy to unpredictable free agent. This is dynamite context-establishing in the vein of Into the Spider-Verse, but the pace of the rest of the film can’t quite keep up. The plot is simple enough to keep track of, as a diverse crew of vigilantes, detectives, and criminals start swarming around a teenage pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) who has swallowed a diamond that’s worth millions. Time frequently gets rewound to fill us in on backstory and to keep us on our toes, but in the end, it’s all just Gotham’s most relatively mentally well-adjusted criminals getting annoyed at each other.

The violence is shocking and gleeful, but also discordant against the neon-bubblegum aesthetic. It would be a mistake to think that Harley is so sweet that she wouldn’t hurt a fly, but it is never clear how she learned to readily break so many legs with such elan. That technique sums up Birds of Prey as a whole. It keeps hitting you in so many directions while simultaneously blowing up everything in sight and cackling like a hyena (much like the one Harley keeps as a pet). Harley is chaotic good, chaotic neutral, and/or chaotic evil – whatever the situation calls for. She may not be anything more than an adjunct Bird of Prey, but the full-time Birds are happy to join her gig for however long she’ll have them. I’m glad these ladies are having fun, though I would have appreciated some more discipline in the storytelling momentum.

Birds of Prey is Recommended If You Like: The DCEU’s recent one-off vibe and you give a lot of leeway for uniqueness

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Perfect Egg Sandwiches