Death Takes Unsettling Form in Daina O. Pusić’s Debut Film ‘Tuesday,’ a Haunting Tale of Love and Loss

Death in cinema has been portrayed in many forms, from Bengt Ekerot to Ian McKellen, John Cleese, and even Brad Pitt. However, in “Tuesday,” the debut film from director Daina O. Pusić, death takes the form of a dilapidated macaw.

This version of Death is far from clean or comforting; it is caked in grime, missing feathers, and varies in size from as large as a room to as small as an ear canal. With a voice that is both ancient and otherworldly, Death in “Tuesday” is profoundly unsettling, not offering a comforting transition to the afterlife.

“Tuesday,” set to expand nationwide this Friday, delves into themes of death and acceptance between a mother and her dying daughter. However, this is not a sentimental story meant for a sympathy card. It is gritty, unsentimental, and at times painfully raw, which might be attributed to its British roots. Viewers might find themselves deeply moved to tears.

The setup of a parent coming to terms with a child’s imminent death is emotionally intense and could easily bring an audience to tears regardless of execution. Fortunately, “Tuesday” is enriched with immense creativity and vision, from both writer-director Daina O. Pusić and the special effects team that created Death, as well as the innovative sound design that adds to the film’s haunting atmosphere.

Lola Petticrew stars as the titular Tuesday, a teenager with a pixie cut, a penchant for jokes and rap music, and a terminal illness that confines her to an oxygen tank and wheelchair. Her mother, Zora, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has distanced herself from the situation, avoiding emotional confrontation by staying out all day, pawning household items to pay for care, and ignoring Tuesday’s calls. At home, Zora refuses to discuss the impending death, her job, or their financial instability, repressing everything to a breaking point.

Nurse Billie, who looks after Tuesday, briefly leaves her alone on the patio to start a bath. During this moment, Tuesday has a distressing episode and struggles to breathe. As she gasps for air, the macaw representing Death lands beside her. Death, introduced early in the film through a series of unsettling deaths, sets a foreboding tone. Each person Death visits has the same outcome once his wing is around them, though their reactions vary from begging for relief to being paralyzed by fear.

Instead of succumbing to fear, Tuesday decides to tell a joke, which disarms Death and initiates a conversation. She bathes the macaw, plays music, and asks for one favor: to say goodbye to her mother first. Death grants her this request.

The narrative of “Tuesday” is complex and multifaceted, blending elements of body horror, fairy tale, domestic drama, and apocalyptic thriller. It is a unique, mesmerizing film that defies predictability. Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers a performance that is both chilling and deeply empathetic, portraying a woman paralyzed by grief even before the loss of her daughter. Her character, Zora, seems to be preparing for her own death, unable to imagine a life without Tuesday. Petticrew matches Louis-Dreyfus’s intensity, showing a maturity and wisdom beyond their years, fitting for someone who has faced mortality too soon.

“Tuesday” is ultimately a cathartic experience, resonating with audiences regardless of their current thoughts on death. It signals the arrival of a bold new filmmaker in Daina O. Pusić, whose work will be worth following.

“Tuesday,” released by A24 and opening nationwide on Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for language and has a runtime of 111 minutes. The film has been awarded three and a half stars out of four.