LOS ANGELES, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Writer-director Amy Seimetz intended She Dies Tomorrow to be open to interpretation, but now the COVID-19 pandemic has colored every interpretation.
"I haven't had the experience of anyone viewing it outside of COVID," Seimetz told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Kate Lyn Shiel plays Amy, who has an overwhelming feeling that she will die the next day. Her friend Jane (Jane Adams) tries to reassure her, but walks away feeling like she will die tomorrow, too. Soon, the feeling spreads to all their friends.
Seimetz says the film's themes of mortality and contagion are hitting home amid the pandemic.
She Dies Tomorrow was supposed to premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in March. Even before Austin, Texas, canceled the festival, Seimetz found that early viewers had applied their anxieties about the outbreak to the film.
"Their anxiety about it was that nobody knew what was going on," Seimetz said. "Now, there's an element of isolation to this fear."
Seimetz never explains in the film what causes Amy's feeling, nor its spread. She said she wanted viewers to question why the characters feel they will die and interpret their own reaction.
"I tried to allow it to be ambiguous intentionally, so that people kept to the same question of their own mortality," Seimetz said. "I wanted them to be left with these questions on their own."
The morbid phenomenon wasn't quite as ambiguous for Seimetz. She recognized the impending death represented her anxiety as a writer-director. Seimetz says she becomes anxious when she's waiting to finish projects like screenplays or production.
Seimetz said she named her lead Amy to acknowledge the autobiographical nature of her character's anxiety. Sheil's character is in a race for resolution before time runs out, as Seimetz believes all humans are to some extent.
"There is a time limit on your life," Seimetz said. "You feel like you need to get all these things done before you die."
Seimetz set the death day as "tomorrow" as a bit of dramatic license. She acknowledged nobody knows the definitive date of death, but making it the next day puts into perspective all the goals a person didn't achieve.
"It might as well be tomorrow because it's going to come at some point," Seimetz said.
The writer/director said the pandemic also made her rethink the film. In the five months since SXSW was canceled, Seimetz said that compression of time came true for her.
"The day that I learned that SXSW was canceled feels like it was five years ago and also yesterday," Seimetz said. "Time doesn't really exist in COVID."
She said she did not mourn the loss of her premiere. Rather, she thought about the hospitality workers in Austin who depend on the festival for their economy.
"It's almost too much to comprehend," Seimetz said.
Not knowing what would happen to the SXSW films spoke to Seimetz's anxieties about waiting to resolve something. She encouraged the film's sales agency, XYZ Films, to shop She Dies Tomorrow without the benefit of screening it to potential buyers at SXSW.
Neon bought the film in March, when the festival still would have been going on. Seimetz did not wish to wait for another film festival to screen it.
"I don't want to wait around for something to happen," Seimetz said.
She Dies Tomorrow is the second feature film Seimetz wrote and directed, after 2012's Sun Don't Shine. She also works as an actor and co-created the Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, which she directed for two seasons.
Seimetz has completed her work on The Girlfriend Experience. She and co-creator Lodge Kerrigan and producer Steven Soderbergh enlisted Anja Marquardt to write and direct Season 3.
"To keep it fresh, you can't have the same filmmakers pontificating on the same idea," Seimetz said. "You have to bring in somebody else who can look at it from a different perspective."
She Dies Tomorrow premieres Friday on video-on-demand platforms.