“I have been very anxious for a few years. I’ve had a really bad time », dice Amy Seimetz in a conversation by Zoom while lighting a cigar on the terrace of his home in Los Angeles. We called the director a few hours after winning the award from the young jury of the Sitges festival for She Dies Tomorrow, an apocalyptic thriller that moves between black humor and psychological horror and which the press labels as ‘2020: the movie’. Also, rightly so, as the first horror movie of the covid era.
The protagonist of She dies tomorrow, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), has the full conviction that, like the title of the film, she will die the next day. Eager to share her discovery, she tells her friend Jane (Jane Adams) and the sentiment goes viral. Jane will also be infected by the idea and will spread it to her closest circle. One by one, all the characters in the film will have to deal with the certainty that, as Amy feels, there will be no tomorrow for them. Seimetz, who tried to turn his anxiety into a film (“I wanted to mix this anxiety with something of surrealism as a metaphor for the period we live in”) has seen how his second feature has become, involuntarily, the film that best describes the fear of death. death and the feeling of viral paranoia that has haunted us since March due to a global pandemic.
In addition to being a director – she has directed a large part of the television adaptation of The Girlfriend Experience-, Seimetz is a prominent face of indie cinema. She has worked as an actress with Joe Swanberg or David Robert Mitchell before It follows. Also in better known projects such as the mother of the disappeared from the third season of The Killing or under the orders of Ridley Scott in Alien: Covenant. Seimetz was also the protagonist of Upstream color, Shane Carruth’s cult indie film, with whom she had a relationship. In full promotion of She Dies Tomorrow, Carruth decided to make threatening messages public against her. It was then that a restraining order was made public that the director has against her former partner for years of alleged abuse that, although she does not verbalize in interviews, still adds more layers of autobiographical terror to her film.
The main character is called Amy, like you. The house we see in the movie is your house and Amy’s friend Jane is Jane Adams, who happens to be one of your best friends in real life too. Why such a personal approach to your own reality in the film?
The film reflects my personal situation. Everything in my life seemed surreal with anxiety. Like Amy in the movie, I had just bought my house and was trying to build a relationship with that space that still felt strange. I had never had a home. In addition, shooting there was free for us and we had no time limitations. Kate and Jane are my friends in real life. They’re the people I call when I’m, you know, anxious. I call Jane all the time when I’m nervous. The conversation Jane has with Kate (Amy) on the phone in the movie, when she says ‘I can’t hear you’, is literally what happens in my conversations with Jane.
Did shooting the movie improve your anxiety levels?
No, it is still there. It relieved her in a way. Think about these times that we live in, you watch the news and every day there is something new where you say to yourself: ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening, this can’t be happening.’ And it is like that without stopping, you consume yourself. The truth is that you cannot maintain that level of anxiety that long. There is a moment when you have to stand up, like in the conclusion of the movie, and say: ‘Well, I’m not okay, but it’s good to know that I’m not okay.’ Because that is precisely the new normal. It was kind of an epiphany that I had: it’s okay not to be okay. It is what it is.
They have labeled your movie the first thriller of the covid era and have even said ‘2020: the movie’. Are you comfortable with the label?
Yes, totally. It is so. The film was going to premiere at the South by Southwest festival and the acts were canceled due to the coronavirus. It was all very strange. From there all our bets were falling, we wondered how we were going to be able to release it. We got to wondering if we had to wait but then we realized that the experience that everyone was having was that of the film and that, furthermore, we were not going to be able to release it in theaters because they were closed (the film, in the US, premiered on on-demand platforms). Everything with the pandemic is being very surreal, like in the movie, where, precisely, they talk about isolation and going crazy alone. I love it because when I do interviews, everyone feels identified in a very personal way. It was great that people ended up watching it at home, and not in theaters, because the film is also about the fear of death and losing the people you love only at your house. And you’re seeing it in front of you, and not the way you used to before the pandemic, which was going out to the movies. That has been fascinating. I would have preferred that the pandemic had not existed, of course, but it has also been very interesting to experience it like this.
Has a particular movie or author inspired you?
I suppose there are influences, but they have been instinctively, let’s say they were stored in my unconscious waiting to manifest. One of my assistant directors, while we were filming, sent me a story by Ray Bradbury in Esquire from a few years ago about a couple who discover that the world will end the next day and who decide not to do anything about it, not flee anywhere or do anything special, because they know there is nothing to do about it. I didn’t remember that story when I wrote the movie, but when he sent it to me, I realized that I had read it. The truth is, I had never seen a movie about the apocalypse where there was no place to escape, you know? And about what would be done in that situation. At the end of the world, I conceive it as something that paralyzes you, but that would also manifest in an incredibly mundane way. As if it were something that you know is happening, that it is going to happen, but you continue to do your thing and make yourself a tea. I’m interested in that apocalypse paralysis.
In fact, unlike other movies, the heroine does not scream when she is aware that she is going to pass away.
He is very introspective. I like to play with that subjectivity. If they look at us from the outside we seem calm, but inside we feel the great drama. This anxiety that we live, in reality, is very anti-climatic: from the outside you will see a person looking at infinity, as if distracted, but inside, inside that person feels at that moment that their whole world is ending. What is happening is absolutely still. I think that duality is incredibly funny and tragic at the same time. People’s inner horrors are invisible and I wondered what would happen if that anxiety was contagious just by saying a few cursed words. As if suddenly, you could understand the agony that person is going through, put yourself in their shoes. See how each and everyone understand that feeling in a contagious way without having to describe it.
Why do you think human beings have this sense of denial with death?
There are different ways of looking at it. Freud had the theory that people went crazy because they were incapable of denying death. And they wondered why everyone continues as if nothing, doing things, when they are going to die. We need that denial because it is what allows us to leave the house and not worry that someone is going to run us over with a car the moment we step outside our door, that no one is going to attack us on the street. This is how we survive day by day. You have to get it out of your head all the time, also to learn to socialize.
It’s interesting how, in Western culture at least, how much we avoid it, even when, precisely, it’s happening. I found out when my father was terminally ill. I was talking to my friends and it was incredibly uncomfortable, because they were talking about how their day had gone, about the movies they had seen, about their work, about the food and they were asking me, how are you doing? what are you doing now? And I’d say, ‘Oh, I’m realizing everything, you know, my father is very ill, I come from the hospital and I have had to sign all these premonitory papers’ and then an incredibly awkward silence hung over the conversation. And I said to myself: ‘But that’s what I’m doing now, just what you asked me!’ We know that we are going to die but we do not talk about it, even knowing that it is something inevitable and that it affects us all. It seems crazy to me.
There is a lot of black humor in the movie. Like the fact that the protagonist, the moment she knows she is going to die, starts googling cremation urns or that strange obsession with someone turning her, after death, into a leather jacket. Where did that idea come from?
The answer is funny, but also extremely crude. You see, death can send you into a spiral of intangible thoughts about eternity and blablabla but on the other hand there are all those physical things that you also have to deal with. Like, what do you do with the remains: incinerate them? Do you bury them? Do you turn them into diamonds? And these are all conversations that my sister and I had when we were dealing with my father’s illness. I took to making incredibly dark jokes at that time. What if we turned it into fireworks? It seems like a crazy idea, but why not? We had to do something with him after he died. It is incredibly dark and sad, but also very real. I found it funny that she, in the movie, said why not become a leather jacket that her friend wore when she was away. Actually, yes, that idea was me recognizing that if you are going to talk about death, you talk about what you are going to do with the body when all is said and done.
All the characters react differently to this knowledge of their death. What would you have done if you had been infected with that idea?
I’d like to think I’d go off-roading through some desert dunes, but that would be the wrong answer. With Kate, who plays Amy, we always laughed saying that this was exactly the same as New Years Eve. You know, there’s always a better party to go to and then you come in and the place is horrible and you have a terrible night and you say, ‘I should have stayed home.’ I have this feeling that there is something epic and tragic about wasting your last day on earth and it would make me paranoid like, ‘what do I need to do?’ Maybe if I were honest with myself, I wouldn’t be so indecisive. I know myself well enough to know that I would not go driving in the desert. Actually the best thing would be to stay home.
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Amy Seimetz, director of ‘She dies Tomorrow’: “I’m interested in the paralysis of the apocalypse, the end of the world will catch us making tea” | Pleasures