4 out of 5 stars

Fran (Daisy Ridley) is an office worker in a nondescript Oregon coastal town who feels disconnected from her surroundings. She keeps herself to herself, barely speaking to her colleagues and living alone. She’s a ghost in her own life.

The opening act of Sometimes I Think About Dying perfectly captures the experience of living with depression. Fran floats through the office as everyone else chats about their dogs, their favourite food, and staplers. These closely observed scenes are uncomfortable and made even more tense with Ridley’s pitch-perfect performance.

Fran comes across as cold and distant in the office, struggling to write a heartfelt message in a colleague’s leaving card and to interact during ice-breaking meetings. Though outwardly distant, she possesses a thriving imagination and frequently experiences visions of graphic yet artistic deaths. These visions are neither gruesome nor heroic; instead, she fantasises about perishing against the backdrop of her seaside home or fading away in a mystical forest. The imagery is reminiscent of paintings of Ophelia, draped in rose petals and floating towards her death.

When Robert (Dave Merheje) joins the office, Fran ventures a little more into real life and discovers she rather likes interacting with him. Their courtship is muted to the point that it’s unclear whether she’s looking for love or companionship. Her relationship with Robert, who seems to appreciate her brutal honesty and dry humour, opens doors and pushes Fran out of her repetitive yet comforting routine.

Sometimes I Think About Dying centres on Daisy Ridley’s superb performance. She has minimal dialogue, and what she does say is delivered in short, curt sentences. Even in the midst of a real-life situation, there’s always a hint that something else is going on behind her eyes, that she’s never truly present. Her performance is reminiscent of Paul Mescal’s Academy Award-nominated role in Aftersun (2022); there’s truth in their silence, a whole universe unfolding as the camera pans in on a vacant stare.

Everything about Fran is meant to blend into the background. Her haircut, dress sense, soft voice, love of spreadsheets, and home are all beige and unremarkable. It’s a cinematic choice that becomes increasingly chilling as the plot unfolds. But Fran isn’t a character who demands sympathy. She seems perfectly happy with her way of life, admitting she loves her job because she’s good at it. Fran is refreshingly content in spite of her disturbing fantasies.

Director Rachel Lambert and Ridley understand the character and have created a fully realised person. Fran never feels like a quirky cliche, nor does the film exaggerate her mental health for dramatic effect. The mental health of young women is very often used for dramatic effect, whether it’s to appeal to a romantic male lead or to be exploited to confuse audiences. Sometimes I Think About Dying doesn’t want to change its lead, nor does it want to turn Fran into a villain. Her morbid fantasies are just another character trait, much like her flat shoes and dislike of Robert’s favourite film. Fran’s suicidal fantasies are portrayed as neither good nor bad, just there.

Between Ridley’s performance and Lambert’s delicate, dreamlike direction, Sometimes I Think About Dying elevates a pitch-black comedy about the daily grind into an extraordinary tale of a depressed introvert finding her place in the world.

The story might feature a mundane woman in a mundane job in a mundane town, but the writing gets that for an introvert, tasks like going to a dinner party and speaking up in a meeting can be life-changing. Everyday experiences like having dinner after a film and game night are filmed like a horror movie because, for someone as isolated as Fran, that’s exactly what they feel like.

Sometimes I Think About Dying is initially too quiet and delicate to make an impact. However, as the film progresses, the performances and atmosphere are likely to get under the audience’s skin. There are no big twists, no crushing dramatic beats. This film is more concerned with exploring the small yet significant moments in someone’s life. By the subdued finale, it’s hard not to be swept up in the emotions of the leading lady. Despite the lack of dramatic plot devices, Sometimes I Think About Dying lingers in the mind long after the credits roll.

USA | 2023 | 93 MINUTES | 3:2 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Rachel Lambert.
writers: Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz & Katy Wright-Mead (based on the play ‘Killers’ by Kevin Armento).
starring: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parish Cheena, Marcia DeBonis, Meg Starter, Brittany O’Grady & Bree Elrod.