“I’m gonna cut myself free of you. If it’s the last thing I do.“
A horror movie with as many obvious metaphors as Till Death can only really work when lack of subtlety is sort of the point. It’s easy to trace Megan Fox’s real-life struggle with the Hollywood machine and her own personal strife against this metaphorical therapy session dressed up as a lean, mean, thriller set in an isolated, blizzard-bunched lakehouse where anything can and will go wrong.
Taking some light cues from Gerald’s Game and You’re Next with even a little bit of Saw thrown in, Till Death reveals its central gimmick early on, where a woman unhappy in her marriage (Fox) wakes up one morning to find her husband’s dead body handcuffed to her. Suddenly, this getaway destination she saw as a door to recovery for her relationship becomes a terrifying escape room. The heat is out, and something close to a string of puzzles could be her only hope of surviving.
Complicating matters further, there happens to a safe with a lot of valuables in the house, and some people obviously want to get their hands on it. What starts as a lock-in survival becomes an all-out Home Alone-meets-Panic Room war, where Fox quite literally has to drag the ghost of her past relationship around. Again, lack of subtlety is why we’re here.
This is the first film from director S.K. Dale, working from Jason Carvey’s screenplay. But the narrative behind the narrative really belongs to Fox’s troublesome baggage with acting in this later stage of her career. One of her most notable roles in the past decade was Jennifer’s Body, a full-on cult classic, which has aged far better than her atrocious writing in those Transformers movies. So it makes perfect sense for Fox to kick off what is hopefully a substantial comeback with another dread-drenched cult flick waiting to be discovered by horror fans.
Entire sections of Till Death rely heavily on Fox’s expressive performance and believable, hopelesss frustration toward these gritty events, and many of these sequences are almost completely wordless. In fact, the film becomes a bit lesser when characters do utter the obvious dialogue unnecessarily. It’s especially striking to see Fox struggling so hard and putting so much effort into breaking free from a life where she had little personal agency and control over her destiny. Her transformation in this film is quite simply empowering and emotionally satisfying to watch, just on a visceral level alone.
Where Till Death falls a bit short is in the psychological game of it all. There’s no subversion or element of surprise here when it comes to the nuts and bolts of what’s really going on. It’s all pretty straightforward, as much of the film feels like a gradual stroll to an expected destination. But that’s not to say the film lacks little twists and turns to elicit gasps and hair-raising tension, particularly in the cat-and-mouse hunt with Callan Mulvey, who sells a truly mountainous force of full-witted villainy. This is no bumbling, imbalanced match-up, to be sure.
Dale deserves a lot of praise for delivering such a slick and efficient thriller like this, especially as a first-time director. But the real healing is in this tour de force from Fox, who reclaims her Jennifer’s Body cred as a leading actor with a whole lot she’s ready to prove. Till Death is certainly a positive next step in renewing those vows.
Till Death is being released by Screen Media Films and is now playing in theaters and on demand.