Entertainment

Amy Seimetz Says That the End of 'She Dies Tomorrow' Is Up to You

Sometimes existential dread is... comforting?

she dies tomorrow
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You wouldn't think that a movie titled She Dies Tomorrow, about a woman whose conviction that today is her last day on Earth spreads like a virus through her circle of friends, would provide comfort in a time when we're all cloistered away in our homes and anxious about even going down to the corner store to buy milk because of a virus. This is a film so perfectly synced to our current predicament that it has been dubbed "2020: The Movie."

So it's sort of surprising that writer-director Amy Seimetz's new feature, which stars Kate Lyn Sheil as Amy, a woman who trudges around her house with a glass of wine and Mozart's "Lacrimosa" on repeat, certain about her impending doom, and supporting performances by Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, and Katie Aselton, is so bracingly funny and unexpectedly cathartic. In advance of its arrival on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and other VOD outlets, we video-chatted with Seimetz -- whose long resume includes directing episodes of Atlanta, appearing in Alien: Covenant and Pet Sematary, co-creating and starring in the Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, and playing an FBI attorney in Showtime's upcoming hot-button miniseries The Comey Rule -- to discuss what it all means and why there's comfort to be found in deep existential dread.

Thrillist: To start off broadly, where exactly did the idea for this movie come from?
Amy Seimetz: Well, my own existential dread and the anxiety that it caused or it causes still. I was dealing with this for a number of reasons. But then another element of it was that I write for TV, and it takes so long to get things in development off the ground, and as a filmmaker, if you haven't shot something for a long time and you have the personality that I do, which is like, I want to make things, I was just like, I need to make something right now. Because even though I've written pages and pages and pages for television and then these movies, I need to get my hands on a camera and I need to be directing actors and I need to be doing something.

So I called Jay Keitel, the cinematographer, who I've worked with for years and years and years, and Kate Lyn Sheil, and was like, Let's shoot something, like right now. So we shot a few things. And at first, I wasn't sure if it was going to be a short, or what it was going to be. But we shot one weekend and I realized in shooting that this loose idea that I had for the film, which is Kate knowing that she's gonna die tomorrow, was much more alluring. There was much more to excavate just based off of what I personally was going through. And so then I wrote the rest of the movie after editing those scenes.

And also Jane Adams, who is my dear friend in real life -- she and Kate, in this very meta sort of way, are the people I call when I am incredibly anxious -- I was like of course Jane has to be in this movie and of course Kate needs to be Amy. And of course it's shot in my house. It was just a lot of "of course, of course, of course, of course," and not being afraid to utilize a lot of the personal things that were happening and embrace that I'm lucky enough to be friends with brilliant, talented people, and incorporate it into the movie and have them make it their own as well.

I imagine that it helps to work with people that you know or have worked with before, so that you have it in your head that they'll get what you're doing.
Seimetz: Yes. We understand each other, and through working with each other, whether I'm acting with them or I'm directing them, you spend so much time with them on set. So inevitably, in addition to the fact that you are in scenes and you see how this person works and what their process is, you also are spending time around people and just talking about life in general. So you know where you can communicate on a shorthand with them. Like, "Remember that story that I told you…?" And they're like, "Yes." And you don't have to go into the story, which I find incredibly useful, even though I love telling stories. [Laughs.] I'll be like, "Stop me if I've already told you this." And usually the answer is, "Yes, you've already told this story."

You have the shorthand in addition to knowing them professionally and knowing their strengths as performers. You also have this personal relationship that you can draw upon. That said, given, like, Chris Messina and Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams and Tunde [Adebimpe] and Katie Aselton and James Benning, even, and Adam Wingard, all these people that I've worked with, it also was really exciting to have Michelle Rodriguez and Josh Lucas, who I had only briefly met before, pop in and do these performances, because it gave it a sort of a live-wire aspect. Not to say that my friends are predictable, but I kind of knew what energy they were going to bring to the scenes, just knowing them so well, but with [Rodriguez and Lucas] I had no idea really what they were going to bring. So it kept everything alive.

Yeah, it's funny to see them show up, especially Michelle right at the end. It adds a whole other layer. 
Seimetz: Yeah. And part of having her show up, which was exciting to me, is because she's so recognizable. Especially in the end when the movie's winding down, there's Michelle Rodriguez and you realize that these two people were also living whatever just happened somewhere else. And that's a whole movie. It was so perfect for her to be in that scene because everyone's like, oh, Michelle Rodriguez, she's been living in her own movie.

In flashbacks, we see that Amy was with a guy [Craig] and "caught" the thing from him, in a way. Is it ambiguous at the end of the movie whether this is a real "disease" or just psychosis?
Seimetz: I mean, yes and no -- intentionally yes and no, because... yes. I mean, I know the logic of whatever I made, but, yes, it is supposed to be ambiguous, because the thing that I really wanted to get through with those scenes, and then also showing that Jane got stabbed and showing Craig dead at the end, what I wanted to show is that whether or not these feelings and these ideas are actually going to happen, you know, who knows? They become real through actions, right? So ideas become real. Katie Aselton, who plays Susan, blames Jane, therefore Jane gets stabbed. So even if Jane wasn't gonna die tomorrow, it suddenly became a real thing. Ideas are beautiful. We have so many things in the world that are beautiful because of ideas, and they became real because they were ideas, and it was contagious and it caught on and now we have that. Somebody built a house, now I have a house. Or I made a film. But they can also be extremely dangerous, and they have consequences as well. To me, leaving it ambiguous as to what happens specifically, was very intentional because I wanted people to be left with -- how to explain it? -- if you do show them what exactly happened, it becomes a movie about that, as opposed to just purely keeping it very obtuse in this way that's like ideas become facts, if that makes sense.

Yeah. It's more about how these people forced it to happen, rather than the fact that it did.
Seimetz:
Right, like their feelings brought it to an unfortunate conclusion.

It's very Inception-y, like, you plant the idea, and then it becomes real.
Seimetz:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Thank you. They had a lot more money. [Laughs.]

The creepiest part, for me, is that this is a contagion movie, in the sense that it's about a spreadable disease, but there's nothing really to see. There's no symptoms. There's just people completely in their minds being like, This thing is going to happen to me.
Seimetz:
It's interesting because, part of the things that people say when you're going through therapy, which I do a lot of, is you have to remind yourself a lot of times that feelings aren't facts, right? You do a lot of excavating and calming yourself down. But what if they are? What if there's an intuition and the feelings are alerting you to something real? In addition to that, specifically with mental illness or any sort of experience that people go through, at a certain point, whether it's true or not, the experience of what they're feeling is very real to them. So even if it's totally made up, either psychosis or just a weird irrational paranoia or whatever it is, at a certain point, it doesn't matter. Their experience of those feelings is real. Sometimes words don't do the feeling justice. Sometimes there's not a word to say what you're feeling, or to communicate it. In a fantasy world, wouldn't it be great if I could just throw on to you really quickly like, "This is how it feels," and then you are downloaded with all the information? Basically whatever world Elon Musk is trying to create, where we can just download information and be like, okay, now let's move forward. [Laughs.] There's a sort of fantasy, even though it plays out in this horror realm, a fantasy of, wouldn't that be interesting if I could just, as opposed to explaining it to a friend, just like, throw it at them and they could catch it and then they understand whatever I'm going through.

Like, plug in and then be like, "Oh, okay, yes."
Seimetz:
"Now I get it, yeah. Now let's move on and talk about something else."

What was your reaction when you realized that She Dies Tomorrow was going to be released during a pandemic?
Seimetz:
I haven't experienced anyone watching the movie without the situation that we're in. It was supposed to premiere at South by Southwest, and the cancellation of South by kicked off the sort of domino effect. South by was the first to be like, nope, we're not doing it. But by the time people had watched it, [the pandemic] had already taken hold. So, I have no experience of people watching it without it. I do know that there was discussion of, well, is this insensitive? And I was like, but it's not about the virus. It's not about COVID specifically. There was a lot of anxiety about that, how to talk about it and -- specifically on my part because I have to do all this talking -- I don't want to make light of COVID. But I do find that the film functions as, in dealing with anxiety about death that we extracted from COVID, I think that there is something cathartic for people watching it to be like, "Oh, good, everyone's thinking about death right now." I've said this before, I can watch all the Too Hot to Handle that I want, but it really helps me.

Great show. 
Seimetz:
I did, I watched the whole thing. I realized I was watching all this surface-level television to make me feel better. And then I finally watched After Life with Ricky Gervais, his brilliant show, and I just sobbed the entire time. I thought I was walking into a Ricky Gervais comedy, and he tricked me. And it is funny, but it's also extremely heartbreaking and human. And afterwards, you would think I'd be like, "Oh God, what a depressing thing." And I was like, "I feel so much better." I forgot that I needed to cry. I was trying to distract myself, and really the whole spectrum of the human experience is like, you need to feel things, you need to feel this range of emotions, and to deny it doesn't mean that it goes away. I'm not saying it's gonna solve anyone's problems, but I think it's fun to be cathartic and watch the film, and be like, "Oh, good, everyone's feeling this way."

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.