[SUNDANCE REVIEW] HOW IT ENDS & SHE DIES TOMORROW Explore Freedom From Society’s Expectation When Tomorrow Isn’t Promised
The horror landscape is shifting, as it does, to offer a cathartic tool to cope with our frightening realities. Given our present-day concerns and fears, I expect to see horror films that will subvert our safe spaces of mundanity and routine. Films that ask us to see ourselves for who we are. We can’t escape or distract ourselves with the nuances of the busy daily life and instead find ourselves trapped inside with our thoughts, realities and shortcomings. With this pandemic, we’ve been forced to confront the truth of our paper towns and invisible restraints. Isolated inside for almost a year, we’re unlearning the unnecessary obligations of social interaction we held so much weight in.
How It Ends (2021), directed by and starring Zoe Lister-Jones is a story about confronting our mortality in the midst of unstoppable forces intent on annihilating us. It’s a charming tale about how we find resolution within ourselves once our societal expectations are stripped away. Filmed during the Pandemic, this filming opportunity was the first for many of the actors who participated and there’s a genuine giddiness on screen at having the chance to interact with other humans once again. How It Ends follows Liza (played by Zoe Lister-Jones) and young Liza (played by Cailee Spaeny) as they travel the sparse LA streets to make amends on their last day on earth. Not just their last day however, but everyone’s. It isn’t overtly explained what is causing the apocalypse at first and the initial hysteria we expect from such news is long behind us, instead we are met with people who have accepted our untimely demise and aim to make their last day count. For Liza and Young Liza, that means traversing the barren landscape in search of people they need to repair relationships with, or in the case of the rotten ex Larry, tell them what for. This idea of futility and what we do, as humans when resolute in our end, when tomorrow is no longer promised has been explored before. However in this film, there is an honesty and brutal realization with films made during a time when the world is plagued with similar feelings of isolation and mortality.
How It Ends is a dark-comedy with charming and quirky moments, featuring brief interactions with oddball comedians like Fred Armisen and Charlie Day. These are fun and silly scenes that move the story along but the strength of this film is in the relationship of Liza and Young Liza, (yes her younger self is personified as a being she can communicate with and now everyone can see). At the heart of this film is an earnest confrontation with ourselves, our truth and how to value the moments we have as we are not promised tomorrow. A tad cliché but existing in our current realities, it hits fairly close to home. What are the things we couldn’t say because we were afraid of the consequences? What are the feelings we push down to maintain peace? What happens when we no longer have to conform to society's expectations of us? That is the true message we’ve received from the Pandemic.
She Dies Tomorrow (2020) directed by Amy Seimetz, though not made during the pandemic, premiered in 2020 when we were all adjusting to isolation indoors. An existential-crisis film that inspires fear, She Dies Tomorrow follows Amy during her mental spiral after she becomes convinced that she will die tomorrow. She is absolutely certain she will die tomorrow and her ideology is contagious. As she interacts with friends and acquaintances, they too believe this and their fight, flight and lethargic instincts kick in. It’s a truly haunting and perplexing film that takes itself incredibly seriously. Unlike How It Ends, there’s no charming conversations with ourselves nor is there a dismissal in the futility of life. The people in She Dies Tomorrow are absolutely destroyed by this realization whereas those in How It Ends are freed.
In each piece, we see the many ways humans cope with imminent and certain death. In How It Ends, we have people intent on being completely out of their minds on drugs. We have conspiracy theories and reconciliation. Liza, in the more serious of scenes, accepts her faults and acknowledges how she’s been a limit to herself. It’s an honesty we can only afford ourselves when there is nothing to be gained or lost. In She Dies Tomorrow, we see parents resolute in saving their children from pain, we see our heroine scratching off items on her bucket list and we see, similarly to How It Ends, people who’ve accepted their fate and found it freeing to finally let go of our societal restraints and simply exist for the time we can. Overall, I appreciate that even across genres, we can find unity in our shared experience of isolation, resolutions and deconstruction of normal society.