Directed by: S.K. Dale
Starring: Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth, Aml Ameen
Available on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Rated R, 88 minutes
I don’t know when TV networks started airing those Christmas ads where a husband guides his wife outside, his hands over her eyes, to reveal the brand new car he’s bought, but at this point they’re as much a tradition as the tree. You know the kind: the spotless car in the driveway, presented with a massive and impractical red bow that sticks out against the pristine landscape of snow where the couple lives. And when the husband uncovers his wife’s eyes, she’s always overjoyed at her gift.
Megan Fox stars in "Till Death.” (Courtesy photo)
“Till Death” is like one of those advertisements gone horribly, horribly wrong. Megan Fox (“Transformers”) plays Emma, wife of 11 years to successful lawyer Mark (Eoin Macken, “The Forest”), who brings her out to a remote lake house in the middle of winter as a surprise anniversary present. Only instead of giving her anything romantic (not even a car), Mark handcuffs himself to his wife and then shoots himself in the head, leaving Emma chained to his corpse.
All shock aside, the literal dead weight of his body presents Emma’s most persistent challenge throughout the movie. Before his death, she discovers, Mark removed all sharp objects from the lake house, siphoned all the gas out of their car, dunked Emma’s phone in water, and shut off the phone service. Unable to get help, Emma must resort to her own resourcefulness to free herself, all while processing the malevolent and psychopathic torture her husband has inflicted upon her as a final act.
Theirs, as you might imagine, is not a loving marriage. When her husband was alive, Emma had a prolonged affair with an associate of his, Tom (Aml Ameen, “I May Destroy You”), while in the wake of his death, Emma sheds nary a tear for him (though she does yell at his corpse a few times). In an early scene, in the bathroom of a restaurant where a couple has just gotten engaged in front of all the other diners, Emma advises the new bride-to-be, “Nothing is set in stone,” as if trying to muster up the courage to leave her own marriage.
Fittingly, the horrors of “Till Death” are not so much products of its violence and gore, but rather the existential dread of being constantly—and, in Emma’s case, literally—dragged down by a manipulative partner. Halfway through the movie, a pair of hired killers, summoned by Mark before his death, show up at the lake house to finish the job. Suddenly, the dead body that slows her every movement and leaves a trail of blood in its wake poses a grave danger to Emma.
For all that stress, she stays cool-headed throughout the movie. Megan Fox, with her usual flat expressions and flat line deliveries and flat presence on screen, here meets a role that actually suits her. The troubled marital history we learn about as the movie progresses explains why she would retreat into herself so fully as to be unreadable, and Fox, never in danger of over-emoting, manages to sell that stoicism. Her performance, in illustrating how uninterested a partner she is with Mark, adds another piece to the movie’s extended ball-and-chain metaphor.
Thanks to its focused dedication to that metaphor and its tight sub-90-minute runtime, “Till Death” is refreshingly easy to watch. It has its missteps, sure—a few flat and unintelligent characters, some implausible plot developments and twists (even within the movie’s gruesomely bizarre premise)—but director S.K. Dale smartly keeps the project simple. The movie is cleanly shot and edited, with tension that builds well throughout, leading to a satisfying climax on the frozen lake.
It’s a nice achievement for Dale, a first-time director, that “Till Death” mostly succeeds at what it attempts, but the movie also feels undercooked. There aren’t many props or settings or characters, but by the movie’s end some of them remain unused, like unintentional red herrings. And thematically, despite its story of domestic abuse and emotional manipulation and toxic masculinity, “Till Death” has nothing to say about these topics except that they’re a real drag. A lack of ambition isn’t the worst sin a movie could commit, but for the sake of his directorial career, I hope S.K. Dale aims higher next time.
Danny Eisenberg grew up in Harvard and has been reviewing movies for the Harvard Press since 2010. He lives and works in Denver, Colorado.