It’s time to wake up.
Emma (Megan Fox) arrives at her husband’s (Eoin Macken) law office ready for their anniversary dinner only to hear him say he prefers her red dress. Instead of thinking out loud, he’s stating a problem in need of rectifying. A “joke” that there’s time to stop home and change isn’t therefore a joke at all once we cut to the restaurant, see Emma in red, and begin to understand why the first scene of S.K. Dale‘s Till Death showed her in another man’s (Aml Ameen‘s Tom) arms. Macken is a former district attorney who put the man (Callan Mulvey‘s Bobby Ray) that assaulted her the night they met in jail—a man he’d defend today. Maybe he loved Emma once, but she’s just a possession now.
As such, screenwriter Jason Carvey ensures no love is lost when what appears to be a romantic winter evening at their long-dormant lake house turns into a nightmarish morning wherein Emma awakens to find herself handcuffed to her husband’s dead corpse. I’ll let the film show you how he ends up dying and simply skip to the reality that she’s now alone, covered in blood, and forced to drag almost two hundred pounds of lifeless flesh around just to try and figure out what’s happening and whether there’s anywhere to go for help. That means taking his clothes to stay warm, rolling down stairwells once gravity pulls with more power than she can provide as counterweight, and discovering the house was meticulously stripped of every means of escape.
The ordeal being so precisely planned reveals that everything has occurred for a reason. And if that reason is her torture—as evidenced by the fact she’s chained to a dead body rather than the dead body herself—there’s surely more suffering planned. Tom’s arrival isn’t thus a coincidental bit of heroics. It’s a premeditated display of power that reminds Emma how little control she possesses. And when a strange truck follows closely behind, we know nothing good can come of it. This lake house becomes less of a prison than it does a grave. Emma is meant to die today. She’s meant to suffer physically, emotionally, and psychologically for no other reason than the fact that the men in her life blame her for their own failings.
Does that truth shine through enough to render Till Death more social commentary than gory thriller? No. It’s superficially present enough to notice, but Carvey and Dale never seem inclined to make it their point. Emma’s suffering is thus a means towards plot development instead of a display of systemic abuse—something Leigh Whannell‘s The Invisible Man conversely balances a whole lot better. That doesn’t, however, mean this film is a failure. It does deliver as a shallow B-movie seeking to entertain with a couple twists and turns en route to a revenge plan ten years in the making. Its inability to reach its potential for more is thus a disappointment rather than a final nail in the coffin if you don’t go in expecting anything deeper.
The draw becomes the execution of the conceit and the inventive ways in which having the dead weight of a human body affects both the mobility of our protagonist and antagonist. What will Emma have to do to get around the house? What would the orchestrator of this murder have to do to make certain her attempts to do so are futile? And how realistic will her survival be when confronted by villains with the sole purpose of finding her? Having snow on the ground helps even if her diving into it doesn’t quite shield the literal pathways marked by blood that serve as a map to her current location, but an assailant who’s not quite up to the violence he’s tasked to commit (Jack Roth) helps more.
This last point is huge for suspension of disbelief because we need him to be so worked up and scared himself (he was told this would be an in-and-out job that wouldn’t have him as an accomplice to homicide) to allow for his continual inability to see what’s right in front of his face. He’s wrestling with what he’s seen, what he’s tasked to do, and the ramifications if caught—it’s enough to distract even a hardened criminal. And Emma needs that to sneak by him unnoticed and reach yet another in a series of dead-ends. Carvey and Dale thankfully know that each close shave must at least shrink the playing field, though, so the climax has no choice but to finally facilitate their inevitable collision course.
Our capacity to remain interested therefore hinges upon Fox as much as the narrative since that perpetually diminishing radius can’t help but prove repetitive. The moment we grow tired of her narrow escapes is thus the moment we bail because the stakes become rendered nonexistent. Fox must sell the situation and its physical brutality so that we’re forced to wonder if this time will be the last of her luck. And she does it quite well with authentic frustration and fatigue. We feel each step as she’s crushed by the body and sympathize with the terror of knowing she can’t simply hide when doing so means hiding him too. Her performance is playing things straight for the dramatic implications of her fate despite the conceit’s outlandishness.
Her success is unfortunately one more bit of disappointment, though, since that authenticity is ripe for diving deeper into the surface-level misogyny to say something while exploiting it. I think Dale tries to do so at times with some intriguing visual flourishes (there’s a great trick that augments a scare by having a body flicker behind a photograph of Bobby Ray to make Emma think he’s in the house), but they’re too few and far between to feel anything more than accidental lightning strikes within an otherwise straightforward production. So while I can easily recommend giving Till Death a shot as an effective revenge thriller, it’s difficult not to notice how often it misses its many opportunities to fight (and perhaps win) above its weight class.
courtesy of Screen Media Films