Indie Focus: Infectious fear in ‘She Dies Tomorrow’
Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
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Here are some words I never imagined I would have occasion to write: This week I spoke with Mick Jagger. Aside from his day job as lead singer of the Rolling Stones, Jagger also recently appeared in the stylish thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy” as a charming, dangerous art dealer, his first credited film role in nearly 20 years. And although the movie was out briefly back in March before theaters shut down, it has now been rereleased.
On what kept him away from acting for so long and drew him back for this role, Jagger said, “I don’t really know. I never got really offered any decent parts.” He added, “I thought, though it wasn’t a very big part, there’s not very many characters in the film anyway. So it was not a large part but it was a couple of decent scenes — so I thought I could make some sort of impact.”
The winner of week 13 of our Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown was 2018’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise (of course) along with Henry Cavill, Vanessa Kirby and Rebecca Ferguson. McQuarrie joined Times film critic Justin Chang to talk about the film, but the conversation inevitably steered toward the next installment in the franchise, which was days away from starting production in March before the pandemic shutdown and is now prepping to start up again.
“I had a very strong idea of what the beginning of this movie would be and I had a very strong idea of what the end of this movie would be. Then a global pandemic came and that global pandemic has changed the way we make movies,” McQuarrie said. “So I know now that whatever I thought the movie was is not the movie. That doesn’t panic me. That excites me. I go into it knowing every day I will be challenged.”
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‘She Dies Tomorrow’
Written and directed by Amy Seimetz, “She Dies Tomorrow” isn’t exactly a horror film, but it is one of the most unsettling films of the year. A woman named Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is stricken with the thought she is going to die the next day, unable to shake it. She tells a friend, who in turn become obsessed with the idea and then spreads it to others. This tale of anxiety, fear and obsession also stars Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, Katie Aselton and Michelle Rodriguez. Released by Neon, the film is at drive-ins and on VOD.
“She Dies Tomorrow” happens to be opening the same day as Kris Rey’s “I Used to Go Here.” Seimetz and Rey are very close friends, so I talked to the two of them together about their new films. Seimetz spoke about how her work directing for television and acting in more commercial movies such as “Pet Sematary” gave her a new sense of freedom to be bolder when making her own movie. “And so I gave myself permission: ‘You don’t have to prove yourself with this movie, you don’t have to prove to the world that you know how to make a movie. You can just make a movie and trust yourself.’”
For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “This grimly funny movie runs a fleet 85 minutes, though the cloud of moods, anxieties and ideas it leaves behind takes longer to dissipate. The concision of its story and the elasticity of its themes are crucial to its peculiar potency: Operating within tight narrative and budgetary confines, Seimetz seeks to reshuffle our perceptions, to alter our sense of how movies can represent the unrepresentable.”
For Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins wrote, “If it were merely an exercise in existential vaguery, or even a more straightforward contagion movie, ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ would prove interesting, but not nearly as enticing as it is. The thrill arises from the way Seimetz constructs and juggles everything, the balance between what she provides (feelings, memories, sensations) and denies (hard answers, explicit philosophy). The sharp brevity of this movie, the intense, train wreck sensation of being pulled into other people’s psychological mess — not unlike its characters — made me feel like its captive. The tension between its linear pull toward a known unknown — toward ‘tomorrow’ and the uncertainty of how or whether Amy, in particular, will fulfill that promise — is beautifully, unnervingly sustained.”
For the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday called the film “a vivid but vaporous portrait of collective unease that feels uncannily of this moment” and said its “themes of sorrow, grief and contagion can’t help but resonate in a time of pandemic and unimaginable loss. But there are no concrete ideas to bolster what is essentially an amorphous drift into inchoate terror. As an exercise in tone, ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ is impressively resourceful, even acute; when it comes to anything more substantial, it feels as wispy as a desiccated palm frond.”
For Vulture, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “Yes, it is remarkable that Amy Seimetz somehow managed to make something that accurately captures the feeling of life right now, given that she had no idea of the environment into which her film would be released. But what makes her picture so unnerving, so uncanny, so unforgettable isn’t its depiction of a viral phenomenon, which is momentary, but rather its all-encompassing, debilitating sense of finality, which is eternal. Things end — that’s what they do, the film suggests. The realization that they must is a truth that can itself destroy entire worlds and create terrifying new ones. ‘She Dies Tomorrow’ is one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time.”
‘An American Pickle’
Directed by Brandon Trost from a screenplay by Simon Rich, “An American Pickle” stars Seth Rogen in two roles. In 1919 Brooklyn, Herschel Greenbaum, an émigré from Eastern Europe, falls into a pickle vat in a Brooklyn warehouse and remains brined for 100 years. When he is discovered and miraculously revived, he is left in the care of his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum. The two have an unexpected falling-out, and soon Herschel launches an artisanal pickle business as Ben seethes with jealous anger. The film is streaming on HBO Max.
For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “‘An American Pickle’ is swift and rather pat and even earnest despite its wacky premise and the issues it skirts. With an 88-minute run time, there’s just no room to treat the twists and turns with any level of depth, and it avoids fully probing the topics like cancel culture and free speech with which it toys, avoiding the thornier areas. It gestures toward controversial ideas but always swerves back to a simple but profound message of togetherness and family, and the personal importance of honoring tradition and memory.”
For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “The flimsiness of the movie’s conceit also works to its benefit. At its best, it’s a brisk, silly plucking of some low-hanging contemporary fruit. Food trends. Social media. Unpaid internships. The inevitable conflict between Herschel and Ben turns a family squabble into a culture-war skirmish, a conflict played out in a way that feels both satirically sharp and oddly comforting. … The tough, pious ancestor and his sensitive, secular descendant have almost nothing in common, and the imaginative challenge is to find an identity that can include them both more or less as they are.”
For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “‘An American Pickle’ has an acidic zing that neutralizes any sentimentality. Rogen has a great feel for Yiddish humor, for its lilting rhythms and its joy, but also for its bleakness. … Rogen, Trost and Rich have a sense of how ridiculous, and sometimes punishing, life can seem, in 1919 or in 2020. Yet even without the advantage of being preserved in brine, we get through the madness. L’chaim.”
For The New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote, “Rogen’s comedic career has become dominated by an ethical focus, even an ethical obsession, that, in the desire to convey good values with good humor, has lost its spice, its risk, its sense of human trouble. As a result, his comedy has become filtered, replacing a wide purview and the possibility of wild emotion and loose-ended impulse with schticky tropes. ‘An American Pickle’ is framed as a picaresque adventure, and it touches on details of contemporary life only in order to lampoon their peculiarities.”
‘The Tax Collector’
Written and directed by David Ayer, returning to his roots making films on the streets of Los Angeles after his big-budget efforts “Suicide Squad” and “Bright,” “The Tax Collector” is a rough-and-tumble crime picture set in the Mexican-American community of South Los Angeles. Starring Bobby Soto as a gangster trying to protect his family from his dangerous business, the movie also stars Shia LaBeouf, George Lopez and Chelsea Rendon.
Reviewing the film for The Times, Carlos Aguilar called the movie “a viciously exploitative bloodbath that regurgitates the negative image of Latino people still so pervasive in media.” He added, “Imagine if Ayer’s interest in Chicano culture manifested as a force to push against perpetuated narratives rather than preserving them, or a platform for Latino filmmakers and actors to be the dominant voice in their own stories.”
Daniel Hernandez dug deeper into the film’s portrayal of the Mexican-American community, in particular through how audiences are to read LaBeouf’s character’s adoption of Latino culture. As Daniel wrote, “This argument brings up a rarely discussed topic in California culture: the presence of non-Latinos integrating in real life among ethnic Mexicans in the state’s urban and rural barrios. When it comes to film and art, the debate prompts the question of who gets to adopt whose culture, especially in a period of intense cross-cultural scrutiny over cultural appropriation.”
For the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis wrote, “Characters like these, primally motivated and hilariously hackneyed, are emblematic of a movie that underlines every point then repeats it, just to be safe. … LaBeouf, like his castmates — in particular, the talented Chelsea Rendon from the Starz drama ‘Vida’ — is constrained throughout by the weight of the stereotyping and dialogue that doesn’t stand a chance against the violence. Though even I will admit that the scene where a villain gets flattened by a bathroom fixture was pretty cool.”
For the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney wrote, “Despite a lot of admirable aims, such as creating layered roles for the Latino acting community and spending production dollars in areas that could benefit from the economic boost, this grim bloodbath feels too routine to be of much interest. … This might have been lurid fun from a director who didn’t take it all so seriously, even if it’s in questionable taste at a time when the White House administration has done everything in its power to demonize Latin American immigrants.”
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