Review: ‘The Forever Purge,’ starring Josh Lucas, Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Cassidy Freeman, Leven Rambin, Alejandro Edda and Will Patton

June 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Leven Rambin in “The Forever Purge” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The Forever Purge”

Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and Mexico, the horror film “The Forever Purge” features a cast of mostly Latino and white people (with a few black people and Native Americans) representing the wealthy, middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Two families—one wealthy and white, the other working-class and Mexican—try to stay alive when a violent mob of white supremacists go on a killing spree targeting people who aren’t white and people who don’t agree with the mob.

Culture Audience: “The Forever Purge” will appeal primarily to people who want to see formulaic, violent movies that have the worst racist hate crimes as gimmicks.

Jeffrey Doornbos and Ana de la Reguera in “The Forever Purge” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Completely predictable and lacking in substance, “The Forever Purge” tries to come across as a horror movie with a social conscience about racism. The movie is really just a badly written gorefest that uses racist hate crimes as a hook. The heroes in the movie have forgettable personalities, while the villains are so over-the-top with their hate speech that they seem almost like a cringeworthy parody of racism. The violence in the movie becomes so repetitive that it lessens any intended impact of being surprising or scary.

“The Forever Purge” is the fifth movie in the horror series that began with 2013’s “The Purge” and continued with 2014’s “The Purge: Anarchy,” 2016’s “The Purge: Election Year” and 2018’s “The First Purge.” The basic premise of each movie is that in a fictional version of the United States, all crime is legal once a year on a designated day, for a 12-hour period. The 12-hour legal crime spree is from dusk until dawn. This legal crime period is called the Purge, because the idea is that if people who are inclined to commit crimes had one day a year to purge their worst actions out of their system, then crime would decrease for the rest of the year. During the Purge, police and other emergency services are not available.

It’s a concept for a horror franchise (which also spawned the 2018-2019 “The Purge” TV series) that has been stretched so thin, that now “The Forever Purge” has ripped that concept apart. In “The Forever Purge,” which takes place mostly in Texas, the 12-hour legal crime period still happens. However, a group of white supremacist marauders have decided that the Purge will no longer have a time limit for them, as they continue with their crime spree to hunt and kill people who aren’t white. These rogue racists have a particular hatred for non-white immigrants.

Directed by Everardo Valerio Gout and written by James DeMonaco (who has written all “The Purge” movies so far), “The Forever Purge” has two protagonist families who represent two different versions of the American Dream. One is a white family who has lived in the United States for generations and has accumulated wealth. The other is a Mexican immigrant family who has relocated to the U.S. in search of better opportunities and a safer life.

The Tucker clan is a family of ranchers living in a large compound in an unnamed Texas city that’s near the Mexican border. Widowed patriarch Caleb (played by Will Patton) is a kind and generous boss to the ranch’s employees, who are mostly Mexican immigrants. Caleb’s son Dylan (played by Josh Lucas) is mistrustful of people who aren’t from the same racial and social class as he is.

Caleb’s other child is his daughter Harper (played by Leven Rambin), who is more like her father than Dylan is, because she doesn’t have racist tendencies. Dylan and his wife Cassie (played by Cassidy Freeman) are expecting their first child together. They don’t know yet what gender the child is, but Cassie is about eight or nine months pregnant.

Meanwhile, a Mexican couple in their 30s named Adela (played by Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (played by Tenoch Huerta) have crossed over the border into Texas as undocumented immigrants in search of the American Dream. They are also seeking a safer place to live, since where they used to live in Mexico has been overrun with drug cartels. Juan finds work as a ranch hand at the Tucker ranch. Adela becomes a cook at a restaurant.

Early on in the movie, it’s shown that Dylan is a jerk who thinks Mexicans are inferior. He likes to wrongfully accuse the Mexican workers of committing an employee violation, and he threatens to fire them to instill fear into them. One of the Mexican workers is a young man named T.T. (played by Alejandro Edda), who is Juan’s closest friend at the ranch.

Dylan has a particular dislike of Juan, who is kind of like a “horse whisperer” for the ranch. There’s a scene near the beginning of the movie that shows how Dylan tried and failed to get a stubborn horse under his control during training, and the horse knocked Dylan to to ground. However, Juan was able to easily calm the horse into submission.

Caleb respects Juan, who is a responsible and hard-working employee, and that makes Dylan jealous of Juan. Dylan tries to intimidate Juan with a false accusation of being tardy, but Juan remains unrattled. However, it’s the type of harassment that Juan can longer tolerate. Juan tries to talk to Caleb about Dylan’s animosity, by candidly telling Caleb that he thinks that Dylan doesn’t like Mexicans.

Caleb’s denies it and says, “I always taught my son to be a proud American. Maybe I didn’t really teach him what that meant. I don’t even know what that means anymore. The world is changing all around us. We are at each other’s throats. Confusing times.”

“The Forever Purge” keeps hammering this point with all the subtlety of a jackhammer on full blast. Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, there’s a series of news voiceovers that report how issues over Mexican immigration have caused increasingly violent tensions in the United States. White supremacist hate crimes, which the perpetrators try to disguise as “patriotism,” are on the rise against non-white immigrants.

As a result, the U.S. government has re-instated the Purge, which had been banned at the end of “The Purge: Election Year.” (“The First Purge” was a prequel to “The Purge.”) All crimes will still be legal for the designated 12-hour period, but government officials are not allowed to be crime victims during the Purge. It’s a precaution to prevent any assassinations of high-ranking leaders.

This re-instated Purge will begin 10 months after Adela and Juan have arrived in the United States. In the days leading up to this Purge resurrection, an anti-Purge activist named Chiago Harjo (played by Zahn McClarnon), who’s identified in the media as a “Texas tribal leader,” has been giving TV interviews denouncing the Purge. And that’s how “The Forever Purge” makes it easy to know that Chiago is going to end up joining forces with the movie’s protagonists in fighting the racist villains of the story.

On the day before the Purge begins again, Dylan, Cassie and Harper are having dinner with two friends who are a married couple: Dalton Levay (played by Joshua Dov) and Emily Levay (played by Annie Little). Earlier that day, Dalton had invited Dylan and Cassie to stay with the Levay family during their Purge lockdown, but Dylan declined the offer. His reason? “I hate the damn Purge. It’s hard to be social on that night, but thank you for the invite.”

During dinner, Emily says that if Cassie and Dylan need a nanny for their soon-to-be-born child, then she suggests hiring the sister of Emily’s nanny Anna. Dylan declines that offer too, because he says that they don’t need a nanny. Anna (played by Lupé Carranza) happens to be nearby with one of the Levay kids, and Dylan notices that Anna and the child are speaking Spanish to each other.

Dylan blurts out another reason why he doesn’t want Anna’s sister to be a nanny for him and Cassie: “I don’t know if I want our kids to be speaking Spanish in this house.” Cassie, Harper and Emily look shocked and embarrassed at this bigoted comment. However, Dylan is the type of racist who doesn’t think he’s racist.

As he says later in the movie to Juan: “I don’t think white people are better than anyone else … but we should just stick to our own.” It’s the type of racist mindset that historically has made racial segregation legal, by saying that society should be “separate but equal” when it comes to race. The problem with the “separate but equal” argument is that the U.S. was built on the very unequal system of white supremacy, where slavery and racial segregation were legal, and white people were given better access to resources such as education, housing, job opportunities and health care.

It’s easy for someone like Dylan (who’s already wealthy) to say “separate but equal” when he has privileges that give him more advantages in life than people who don’t have the same privileges. It’s a message that “The Forever Purge” attempts to convey in a very superficial manner. “The Forever Purge” ultimately abandons this message when the movie devolves into a typical violent free-for-all with deadly shootings, stabbings and other types of violent murders.

The day before the Purge, Caleb gives each of the ranch employees a cash bonus, to help them fund whatever defense methods they need for the Purge. A ranch hand named Kirk (played by Will Brittain), who appears to be the only white employee of the Tucker family, snarls after taking the cash: “I know what I’m using my money for—and it’s not for protection.” And when Kirk gripes to the other ranch hands that the Tucker family is just using the employees as “slave labor,” it’s an obvious foreshadowing of what comes later in the movie when the Tuckers become victims of a home invasion.

During the Purge, the Tucker family is on lockdown by having bulletproof barriers that can be lowered over their doors and windows. The Tucker property also has an extensive video surveillance system that Dylan monitors. Meanwhile, Adela and Juan stay at a public lockdown facility that is protected by armed guards. There seem to be many other Spanish-speaking immigrants at this facility.

Adela is curious about what Purge night looks like outside, so she goes up on the building’s roof where some armed guards are keeping vigil. One of the guards advises her to go back inside the building, as the sounds of gunshots and explosions ring through the air. Adela says to him, “There are parts of Mexico that sound like this every night.”

While looking out on the streets below, Adela is alarmed to see a truck with the words “Purge Purfication” emblazoned on the side. A recording blares from the truck’s loudspeakers: “We will no longer tolerate foreigners raping and pillaging the United States of America! We will find you and disinfect you! America will be American once again!”

She also sees that there’s a black man being held captive inside the truck. He looks like he’s being assaulted and will probably be killed. However, the crime that Adela is witnessing is legal, because it’s happening during the Purge. The tragedy of the situation still shocks her though.

Later, when Adela shows weapons skills that a typical cook would not have, it should come as no surprise when she reveals that it’s because when she was in Mexico, she was part of a group of women who fought drug cartels. This isn’t spoiler information, because the only real spoilers for this obvious movie is revealing who lives and who dies during the violent mayhem that ensues.

After the Purge ends for the year, people think their lives have gone back to normal. But there would be no “The Forever Purge” movie if that happened. Not long after the Purge ends, there’s still a large presence of white supremacists going around in groups and committing hate crimes. The Purge Purification truck is part of a nationwide Purge Purification movement that doesn’t want the Purge to end. Their motto (which they repeat to the point of stupidity) is “Forever After Purge.”

Adela finds out the hard way when she sees an abandoned goat in a cage in a back alley and tries to rescue it. It’s a trap, of course, and the two white supremacists who set the trap try to kill her. Adela is saved by a Good Samaritan named Darius (played by Sammi Rotibi), who is African American. Together, Darius and Adela kill their attackers in self-defense.

And as soon as this deadly battle ends, guess who suddenly shows up at the scene? Two cops, who weren’t around when they were needed. The cops quickly arrest Adela and Darius, who protest and say they were acting in self-defense. Their proclamations of innocence are ignored, so Adela and Darius end up in the back of a police van with some other people who’ve been arrested.

One of those other people just happens to be a mentally unhinged neo-Nazi skinhead (played by Edward Gelhaus), who has a swastika tattooed on his left cheek. By this time, the city has become a chaotic and violent mess, with gunshots heard everywhere. In one of the more laughably ludicrous parts of the movie, the neo-Nazi begins identifying the types of guns being used, based on the gunshots that are heard.

“Listen to that bass!” the Nazi crows like a loon about the gunshots. “Homegrown music from the heartland right there! That’s American music, motherfucker!” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Every lunatic racist group in a movie like this needs a leader, and in “The Forever Purge,” it’s Elijah Hardin (played by Jeffrey Doornbos), who spouts white supremacist rhetoric that sounds like it came straight from the Ku Klux Klan Handbook of Clichés. Elijah has an equally nasty wife named Mother Hardin (played by Susie Abromeit), who’s intent on proving that women can be just as dangerous as men when it comes to violent racism.

“The Forever Purge” has a very unsurprising storyline of the protagonists being separated from their spouses and trying to find them in the chaos. And that means that Dylan and Juan end up working together for a common goal, which leads to Dylan’s inevitable change of heart in how he feels about Mexicans. There’s also a part of the movie where the protagonists trie to flee to safety in Mexico, which is an obvious ironic flip to show Americans what it would be like to be refugees seeking asylum in another country.

The violence just becomes filler before the movie’s hackneyed conclusion. “The Forever Purge” has a lot of action, but it’s so unimaginative and easy to predict that it ends up becoming very tedious after a while. The acting is nothing spectacular, mainly because almost all of the characters have no real depth and often utter moronic dialogue during the fight scenes. Now that “The Forever Purge” filmmakers have destroyed the series’ original concept so that the mayhem of the Purge now has no time limit, this once-unique movie franchise has just become another run-of-the-mill slasher flick series.

Universal Pictures will release “The Forever Purge” in U.S. cinemas on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘The Secret: Dare to Dream,’ starring Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas

August 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” 

Directed by Andy Tennant

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New Orleans area and partially in Nashville, the dramatic film “The Secret: Dare to Dream” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) presenting the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash:  A widowed mother who is financially struggling meets a stranger with a secret who upends her life in ways that she does not expect.

Culture Audience: “The Secret: Dare to Dream” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted but formulaic movies that promote the power of positive thinking.

Katie Homes, Aidan Pierce Brennan, Sarah Hoffmeister and Chloe Lee in “The Secret: Dare to Dream” (Photo by Alfonso Pompo Bresciani/Lionsgate)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” is the type of movie where it’s very easy to predict how it’s going to end, even if people don’t know that this scripted drama is inspired by Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling self-help book “The Secret.” Yes, the movie is utterly formulaic and a little preachy, but it’s elevated by the very good performances of stars Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas, who have utterly believable chemistry together as two people who change each other’s lives for the better. The rest of the cast members also do a fine job of bringing this heart-warming story to life.

Directed by Andy Tennant (who also worked with Lucas on the 2002 romantic comedy “Sweet Home Alabama”), “The Secret: Dare to Dream” hits a lot of the same beats as movies that might end up on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. But what separates “The Secret: Dare to Dream” from movies that are usually made for television is how terrific the casting is in “The Secret: Dare to Dream.” Viewers of this movie can recognize parts of themselves or people they know as the story unfolds.

The movie’s screenplay by Bekah Brunstetter, Tennant and Rick Parks could have been ruined if the wrong actors had been cast. But everyone brings an authenticity to their roles in a way that it looks they’re portraying people who really are like these characters in the real world. The cast members don’t come across as just actors saying their lines in a contrived and fake environment. (It also helps that the movie, which primarily takes place in Louisiana, was shot on location.)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” begins with the arrival of a tropical storm called Hazel that’s ready to batter the New Orleans area. Miranda Wells (played by Holmes), a widowed mother of three, is at her job on the day that the storm is supposed to hit that night. Miranda (whose husband died more than five years ago) is the manager of a restaurant called Middendorf’s, a casual mid-sized eatery that’s owned by Tucker Middendorf (played by Jerry O’Connell), who comes from a wealthy family in the area.

Miranda has made a good deal that day to buy some late-season soft-shell seafood, and she’s praised for it by Tucker, who happens to be her boyfriend of about three years. Miranda has an early-afternoon dentist appointment, where she gets some disappointing news: She has to have a root canal, but since she opted out of dental coverage for her health insurance, she’s going to have to pay the out-of-pocket expenses, which she can’t really afford right now.

How bad are Miranda’s financial problems? Before she went to the dentist’s office, she’s seen calling her bank to tell them to reverse the charges on a bounced check, which is a check that she probably didn’t think would be presented to the bank as quickly as it was. The receptionist at the dentist office notices that the cost of the root canal is distressing to Miranda, so she asks Miranda if Tucker might be willing to cover the expenses. Miranda quickly dismisses that idea, “because tings are complicated because he’s my boss.”

Meanwhile, a handsome stranger from Nashville is seen checking into a nearby boutique hotel. His name is Bray Johnson (played by Lucas), who is a mechanical engineering professor at Vanderbilt University. Bray, who has an easygoing and friendly manner, tells the hotel’s front-desk employee Sloane (played by Sydney Tennant) that it’s his first time in New Orleans.

What Bray doesn’t tell her is why he’s traveled to New Orleans: He needs to deliver a legal-sized envelope to Miranda. (What’s in the envelope isn’t revealed in the movie until much later in the story.) Bray notices that Sloane is reading LSAT tutorial books to prepare for law school applications. Bray and Sloane talk about her goal to become an attorney, and he wishes her good luck.

Bray is carrying the envelope with him when he stops by Miranda’s house unannounced in the afternoon. She isn’t home, but her son Greg (played by Aidan Pierce Brennan), Miranda’s middle child who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is there because he’s taken a sick day home from school. Greg is out by a backyard creek when Bray first sees him, and they have a pleasant conversation where Greg mentions that his late father was an inventor.

Greg also seems to be interested in mechanics and science, so mechanical engineering professor Bray and Greg form an instant bond. Greg tells Bray that Miranda will be home after 4 p.m., so he can come back then to deliver the envelope. Greg also asks Bray not to tell Miranda that they spoke because Greg isn’t allowed to talk to strangers. Bray promises to keep their conversation a secret.

Meanwhile, Miranda’s mother-in-law Bobby Wells (played by Celia Weston), calls Miranda to express how worried she is about the leaky roof in Miranda’s house because of the impending storm. Miranda’s declines Bobby’s offer for Miranda and Miranda’s kids to stay at Bobby’s house during the storm. It’s pretty clear early on in the film that Miranda has a pattern of being too proud to ask for help, even when her life is falling apart.

Miranda picks her other two children up from school: teenage Missy (played Sarah Hoffmeister) and Bess, also known as Bessie (played by Chloe Lee, in her film debut), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Missy is cranky and on edge because her upcoming 16th birthday party is going to be held on the same day as a party thrown by fellow classmate who can afford to have food trucks at her party. Missy thinks her own party will be a flop because her schoolmates will prefer to go to the fancier party.

Missy resents that Miranda doesn’t make enough money for them to be financially secure. Missy has wanted to get a computer for quite some time, but Miranda can’t afford it. By contrast, Bess is a sweet-natured kid who doesn’t cause much of a fuss.

While Miranda is driving home with her two daughters, Missy and Miranda get into an argument, which causes Miranda to be distracted from the road. Miranda ends up having a minor fender-bender accident with the car in front of her. The accident causes the front bumper on Miranda’s car to fall off. And who’s the driver of the other car? It’s Bray, who’s not as upset by the car accident as most people would be.

Miranda makes profuse apologies to Brady and mentions that she has car insurance, but her policy has a $5,000 deductible that she can’t afford. Bray sees how upset she is and kindly offers to fix the front bumper for free. Miranda can’t believe her good luck, so she says that Bray can follow her back to her house and work on the car there.

When Bray follows Miranda to the house, he’s surprised to see it’s the same house that he was at earlier in the day, and he realizes that the woman who hit his car is Miranda. Bray decides to wait to give the envelope to Miranda, since she obviously has other things on her mind. Bray sees Greg again, but they both pretend that they’re meeting for the first time.

When Bray introducers himself, he tells Miranda and the kids a little bit more about himself, but he doesn’t mention the envelope. While Bray (with Greg watching) works on the car outside, Missy looks up information about Bray online, and sees that his story about being a Vanderbilt University professor is true. She shows the proof to Miranda, and they both feel a little better knowing that Bray seems to be honest about who he is.

When it starts to get dark and the storm begins, Miranda invites Bray to stay for dinner. Bray’s almost Zen-like demeanor prompts Missy to ask Bray if he’s a Buddhist. He says no, but he does spout some platitudes that indicate that he’s a deep thinker who believes that thoughts can be turned into reality.

For example, Bray tells Bess: “We have to be careful because we get what we expect.” And in the kitchen, when he shows the kids how magnets have unseen forces, he says that people’s thoughts are like magnets: “The more you think about something, the more you draw it to you.”

The kids all want to have pizza for dinner, but Miranda says no. But just as Bray is telling them that thoughts will manifest themselves into reality, he asks the kids to imagine what kind of pizza they want. They give vivid descriptions. And then, like clockwork, during the rainstorm, a pizza delivery guy is at their door with some pizza.

It’s not magic. It turns out that Tucker had ordered the pizza as a thoughtful surprise. Miranda thinks it’s a lucky coincidence. Bray has a look on his face as if he thinks it’s not a coincidence. (And he utters this line later in the movie; “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”) Bray and Miranda also look at each other in a way that maybe something else is happening between them that’s more than politeness between two strangers.

Through a series of events, Bray ends up staying in New Orleans longer than expected. He also opens up to Miranda about his relationship status. Bray, who has no children, went through a painful divorce more than 10 years ago because his ex-wife cheated on him. He also hints that he went through another devastating event, which is shown in a flashback.

Meanwhile, Tucker notices that Miranda and Bray are getting closer as platonic friends, so he makes moves to assert his romantic relationship with Miranda, who doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get married again. Bobby approves of Tucker being Miranda’s boyfriend because Tuck is nice to Miranda and the kids and because Tuck is rich. Bobby wants her grandchildren to have a more financially stable life, so she tells Miranda not to doing anything that would ruin Miranda’s relationship with Tucker.

And what exactly is in that envelope? Although the relationships are easy to predict in this movie, what’s in the envelope isn’t that easy to predict. But when it’s revealed, it will permanently alter the lives of all the main characters in this story. The mystery of what’s in the envelope is another reason why “The Secret: Dare to Dream” will keep viewers hooked into finding out what will happen.

The movie is capably directed and the scenic cinematography is good, but the movie’s main appeal is with the human relationships and how personalities are realistically portrayed. When Bray starts sharing his life philosophies and gets some of the people in the story to begin thinking about their lives differently, he doesn’t come across as “holier than thou” or a “too good to be true” preacher type. His emotional pain is just beneath the surface of his calm demeanor, and Lucas does a great job in making Bray a very believable human being who’s learned a lot from his life experiences.

Holmes gives a richly nuanced performance as a single mother who wants to be a “superwoman” to the outside world, whereas on the inside she’s also in emotional pain, as well as vulnerable and fearful of how she’s going to get through life. Miranda doesn’t pretend to be perfect, but she learns some lessons about how asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Part of the movie’s obvious message is not about what problems people have but how they deal with those problems.

A movie doesn’t have to be Oscar-worthy to be enjoyable. Many times, it’s about how convincing the movie is in drawing viewers into its world and how a movie makes you feel after you’ve seen it. “The Secret: Dare to Dream” sticks to a certain formula that people can expect, especially in how the story ends, but the movie’s positive message makes it an uplifting ride along the way.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released “The Secret: Dare to Dream” on digital and VOD on July 31, 2020.

Review: ‘She Dies Tomorrow,’ starring Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim and Josh Lucas

July 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Lyn Sheil in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“She Dies Tomorrow” 

Directed by Amy Seimetz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow” features a predominantly white cast (with one Asian person, one black person and one Latino person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman spreads her fear of dying to the people closest to her.

Culture Audience: “She Dies Tomorrow” will appeal primarily to people who have a high tolerance of incoherent movies that have vague endings.

Jane Adams and Josh Lucas in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

When a filmmaker makes a weird movie for the sake of being “unique” or “edgy,” what’s sometimes left out of the equation is ” interesting.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being weird, but when you create a story that is extremely boring, then people will feel like they wasted their time paying attention. Unfortunately, that is the end result of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s horrifically self-indulgent and mind-numbingly dull psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow.” The movie is only 84 minutes long, but it feels like longer.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing for this movie. “She Dies Tomorrow” is definitely not a horror film. Instead, it’s a mash-up of scenes showing a bunch of unhappy people in Los Angeles who keep predicting that they’re going to die tomorrow. There are some multi-colored (usually red, blue and green) strobe-light effects that fill the screen every time this feeling of impending doom overtakes each person.

But this spooky, almost hallucinogenic cinematography is not a sign that there’s some outside force from outer space or an evil spirit causing this morbid gloom and doom. In fact, there isn’t much of an explanation for anything that goes on in this story. In a nutshell: The movie is about people who become convinced that they’re going to “die tomorrow.” When they say this negative and morbid thought out loud to other people, that thought spreads to those other people like a virus.

It’s shown in the beginning of the film that the person who seems to have started the spread of this mental virus is a woman named Amy (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), who lives alone in her house in Los Angeles. Amy is depressed about something, so she gets drunk, and is overwhelmed with the feeling that she’s going to die tomorrow.

There are way too many shots of Amy stumbling around in a sequined dress and doing things like stroking the panels on her hardwood floors and looking at random things on her laptop computer. One of the things she looks at online is a set of leather jackets for sale. And she also inexplicably goes in her backyard to set some paper on fire. (It’s never revealed what was on the paper and why she wanted to burn it.)

Amy’s middle-aged friend Jane (played by Jane Adams) comes over and sees Amy in this pathetic state. Amy is so drunk that she says to Jane, “I wonder if I could be made into a leather jacket.” And then she says the fateful words to Jane: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

Jane replies that Amy will definitely die if Amy continues to relapse. Amy then repeats her macabre prediction: “I’m going to die tomorrow.” Jane tells Amy that she won’t, but Amy insists that she will. They go back and forth with this argument for a minute or two.

After a few more random and nonsensical scenes that include Amy waking up as if she just had a nightmare, Jane is shown walking zombie-like into a party at the house of her brother Jason (played by Chris Messina) and Jason’s wife Susan (played by Katie Aselton). It’s a small, low-key gathering to celebrate Susan’s birthday.

The only other guests there are a younger couple named Brian (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (played by Jennifer Kim), who have very different demeanors at the party. Tilly makes an effort to be talkative and outgoing, while Brian is mostly silent and looks uncomfortable.

Jane’s sudden arrival surprises the people at the party, because she had apparently told Jason and Susan that she wasn’t going to attend. Not only has Jane somewhat crashed the party, but she’s acting spaced-out and melancholy, which ruins the party’s previously upbeat atmosphere. Almost everyone’s been drinking alcohol at the party, where Jane utters the fateful words: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

There really isn’t much left to the story, except that Jane ends up in a doctor’s office, where the doctor (played by Josh Lucas) immediately thinks that something is psychologically wrong with Jane. Meanwhile, this “mental virus” spreads to Jason and Susan, who traumatize their teenage daughter Madison (played by Madison Calderon) when they both tell her that they’re going to die tomorrow.

There are also nonlinear flashback scenes of Amy and her relationship with a guy around her age named Craig (played by Kentucker Audley), who apparently started as someone who might have been looking to rent a room, because in one of the flashbacks, Amy gives Craig a tour of the house, as if he’s a potential renter. But somehow Amy and Craig ended up becoming lovers—there are no sex scenes in the movie, but it’s shown they had an intimate relationship.

However, this relationship didn’t last. Amy and Craig broke up, and Craig took the breakup very badly. The beginning of the film shows him having a meltdown in the living room where he shouts, “It’s over! … There’s no tomorrow!” And then there’s a scene later in the film of Craig lying dead on a house floor with a gun nearby. It’s left up to viewers to interpret what happened to Craig.

There’s also a bizarre cameo scene in a swimming pool of a woman named Skye (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and a woman named Erin (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), where Skye says, “Hi, I’m Skye. I’m dying.” Erin replies, “I’m Erin. I’m dying too.” And then the swimming pool starts to become filled with blood. Erin says, “I think I’m on my period.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

In the production notes for “She Dies Tomorrow,” writer/director Seimetz explains what inspired the movie: “I was dealing with my own personal anxiety and found I was spreading my panic to other people by talking about it perhaps too excessively—while simultaneously watching a ton of news and watching mass anxiety spreading on the right and left politically. All this while remembering losing my father and many friends, that we all die at some point. We don’t know what to do but keep living, realizing the absurdity and tragedy that ‘with life comes death.’”

If the purpose of “She Dies Tomorrow” is to make viewers feel like they’re stuck watching miserable people who want their lives to end, while you can’t wait for this rambling and messy movie to end, then it succeeds in that goal.

Neon released “She Dies Tomorrow” in select U.S. cinemas on July 31, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is August 7, 2020.

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