SHE DIES TOMORROW. The plague has gone on long enough by now that we are beginning to experience the first wave of art and entertainment produced during and in reaction to it. The movie nerd internet — with which I barely and reluctantly engage, I'll have you know — has been clamoring for some time now about the mysterious project John David Washington and Zendaya worked on with writer-director Sam Levinson (Assassination Nation, 2018). That production, now titled Malcolm & Marie, saw the entire cast and crew go into strict quarantine before filming began. Host, available on the horror streaming service Shudder, was shot remotely using Zoom and uses the video conferencing application as a central device. At this early stage, though, the art of the pandemic, unsurprisingly, comes largely from a need to explore and express the collective anxiety and dread that distance, isolation and uncertainty have engendered. Makes sense.
She Dies Tomorrow, written and directed by Amy Seimetz, isn't a product of the pandemic, at least not literally. It was, in fact, set to premiere at this spring's late lamented South by Southwest festival; it's kind of a COVID stepchild. Thematically, though, it speaks to the current poisonous global ether in a language that seems even more topical and relevant than if it had been created as a reaction to the crisis, rather than as preamble or predictor.
Amy (Kate Lynn Shell) is still moving into a spare but stylish house she has just bought. As day recedes into night, Amy plays and replays the same piece of music, puts on a sequined dress and drinks bottle after bottle of white wine. She seems inordinately fascinated by the grain of her home's hardwood floor, with the foliage and detritus of her backyard. Eventually she speaks to her friend Jane (Jane Adams) and lets her know she is certain she will die the next day. Jane comes over to provide some support, ascribes Amy's fatalism to an alcoholic relapse and leaves to protect her own fragile mental health. Too little, too late, though: The death ideation — and the absolute certainty thereof — proves highly contagious. And so it passes from Amy to Jane and beyond, manifesting in ever more unsettling reactions.
She Dies Tomorrow, while adhering to a near-pandemic economy of scale, explores anxiety and dread using the audio-visual language of horror, with conversations shot disconcertingly from just outside doorways, swelling synthesizers suggesting the menace of dark corners, slow-motion colored strobe lights connoting the realization of imminent doom. It is narratively elliptical, occasionally moving forward and back within its limited timeline so that we, like all of the characters, are subject to a feeling of unease, of constant motion without a destination. But the movie is also self aware enough to occasionally be slyly humorous, not quite in a winking way but frequently enough that we know the joke is being played both for and on us.
In many ways, Seimetz's movie (her second) is the best artistic representation of the ineffable weight of the world at this moment. I've felt and observed in others uncontrollable, almost unknowable feelings in the last however many months it's been. I've watched those unprecedented emotions culminate in inappropriate but completely justifiable outbursts. The well has been poisoned and we are all infected, though our visible symptoms may vary. Thing is, it's been a long time coming. The fact that She Dies Tomorrow so aptly sums up the low-grade horror and unpleasant discovery of the pandemic speaks to it. R. 86M. STREAMING.
I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK. If a psychedelic exploration of poor mental health isn't what your day calls for but you're still a masochist, might I suggest Liz Garbus' six-episode miniseries adaptation of Michelle McNamara's brilliant, posthumous investigation of the recently apprehended Golden State Killer. McNamara parlayed a true-crime blog into an LA Weekly piece into a book deal and went deep; she befriended a network of citizen sleuths and retired detectives set on solving the string of rapes and murders across California in the 1970s and '80s. The crimes had previously been attributed to the East Area Rapist and the original Night Stalker, but McNamara was able to establish previously unrecognized connections among them, to cast the voluminous evidence in a new light and, eventually, lead to the killer's discovery and arrest. Her book and this adaptation reconstruct many of the crimes but they also examine the author's fascination with them, as well as the wages of that obsession. The miniseries isn't exactly a stylistic revelation but its expansion of the book is very much in keeping with the source material. My wife's advice would be not to watch it before bed. TVMA. HBO.