Till Death isn’t much of a film for irony but the title, recalling the “till death us do part” line from the wedding vows, is rich in it. Megan Fox plays the straying wife whose husband decides to take an exquisite form of revenge, one which winds up with her shackled to a dead corpse in a remote holiday home that’s been cleaned of every utensil, tool or scrap of anything that might serve as a key. There’s no parting here.
And that’s the setup – Emma (Fox) in her ivory silk underwear and covered in blood and bits of the dead man’s brain, with no working phone line, her mobile phone dunked in a vase of water, the car drained of fuel, dragging a corpse around a house without heating, doomed to die miles from help, in a snowed-in winter landscape that’s more or less ensured that no one will be arriving out of the blue just by the by.
It’s a good, smart, simple idea, one that pits human wit (hers) against almost certain death and asks us to stand back and watch as ingenuity goes to work, trying first this and then that, in much the same way as the hero of The Martian did, or Robinson Crusoe even.
Fighting the handicap of a face that’s been rendered almost featureless by one procedure or another, Fox, perhaps by a sheer force of talent, cuts through as Emma, with rage and frustration tangoing together as the woman searches high and low, in outbuildings and cellars, dragging the dead man, using a white wedding dress as a kind of sled to make moving him more easily. Yes, that is irony too, I’ll give you that.
It feels like this is a comeback film for Fox, though a quick look at the imdb reveals she made two features last year (2020) and three the year before. Even so, it’s a long time since the Transformers movies propelled her instantly, it seemed, onto everyone’s radar. Jennifer’s Body, Jonah Hex and Friends with Kids followed swiftly on, and helped put her at or near the top of all those FHM/GQ etc “hottest women in the universe” type polls. But I’ve not seen her in anything since 2012’s This Is 40.
Poor Eoin Macken, who plays the dead body she’s shackled too. He’s effective enough while still alive, and grimly so also as a corpse, being flollopped up and down the stairs repeatedly, with half his face missing and spongey grey stuff everywhere. I could swear I saw him flinch once, though it’s got to be a dummy taking the brunt of most of it. I hope they paid him well (he also writes and directs his own films, so the money’s probably going to a good home).
It is an effective film all round, with debuting feature director SK Dale proving he’s got what it takes when it comes first to establishing a creepy atmosphere of impending dread and then, later, to building an escalating sense of panic, even though he’s fighting against a story that decides to junk its main premise – one person’s fight against her situation – and introduces a new one, as two burglars turn up (Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth), one of them with murderous intent.
This switching of horses midstream robs the film of its mythic purity. Emma’s fighting people now, not just her circumstances, and there’s an increasing use of sheer blind luck, rather than smarts, to get Emma out of scrapes. Less “ooh, that was clever” and more “ooh, that was lucky.”
It’s a bit of a con, in other words, a film that sells you one thing only for it to turn out when you unpack at home that you’ve got another thing, but it’s fun, and fast and everyone knows what they’re meant to be doing and gets on and does it. An entertaining goodtime thriller with brains (splattered everywhere).
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© Steve Morrissey 2021