In the 1954 film, Johnny Guitar, Joan Crawford’s Vienna says to the titular Johnny, “A man can lie, steal, even kill. But as long as he hangs on to his pride, he’s still a man. All a woman has to do is slip once and she’s a tramp.” In Till Death, Megan Fox’s Emma slips, having an affair with another man. The film’s horrors lie in what follows. Men cheat and it’s treated with a shoulder shrug. If women cheat, it’s the Salem Witch Trials all over again. Those double standards are damaging. In the case of Emma, it’s hypocritical because, no matter how many times her husband came home with lipstick on his shirt collars, he never would have been met with the kind of twisted game he puts her through. She simply washes the lipstick off. S.K. Dale’s feature debut follows a woman suffering through trauma. It’s difficult not to think of another Fox-starring horror film while watching it. Like Jennifer’s Body, her latest film finds her playing a woman who has suffered something traumatic. Both centered around abuse and empowerment, in Jennifer’s Body, she is seen bloodied in a white prom dress, her youth taken away. In Till Death, however, Fox drags her abuser’s dead body atop a white wedding dress – breaking a vow that's meant to bind.
The film has an awkward start as its opening scenes feel a bit like a soap opera or Hallmark movie, with Fox and scene partner, Aml Ameen, having little chemistry. It doesn’t provide the best first impression of the impressive thriller to come, but it makes us curious about Fox’s character. Emma feels to be carrying a complexity and mysteriousness to her. You wonder what’s going on in her head as Fox disassociates with tears filling her eyes. The star displaying the ability to go inside her character's head very early on – a talent that she has rarely been afforded to showcase. We learn that Emma has been having an affair, and the film opens with her ending it. Driving back home, she can’t stop crying as she puts her wedding ring back on her finger. The next day also happens to be her and her husband’s wedding anniversary.
Dressed in black, she surprises her husband, Mark (Eoin Macken), at work. There’s a police folder on his desk. Inside is a polaroid of Emma, beaten and bruised. She’s a victim of assault; stabbed in an attempted robbery. She still gets flashbacks from that day, feeling the knife plunge itself into her back over and over again. Her controlling, slimy criminal lawyer husband shows no sympathy or support for her. Instead, digging the knife of her trauma deeper. Both are holding onto different parts of the past, him making it clear time and time again that he misses who his wife used to be. At dinner, he gifts her a necklace. A bulky, steel-looking thing, and as he puts it around her neck, you get the sense that he’s putting on a collar. And if he wasn’t already giving off bad vibes, he blindfolds her and promises another “surprise.” The surprise is a night spent together at their lake house. He takes her there because of all the “happy memories” it represents. Adorned with candles, pictures of happier times, and a trail of rose petals, he seems to have a plan to rekindle what once was. But it’s far from romantic as he shoots himself in the head the next morning right beside her – only after handcuffing Emma to him. “Till death do us part,” you vow. But Mark created an elaborate and depraved plan to keep that phrase only in Bible verse.
Like the mind of a serial killer, Mark leaves behind tapes for Emma to listen to, providing a darker glimpse into his character and why he did what he did. He knew of the affair but didn’t kill himself out of sorrow. No, he did it to toy with her. Take full control of her once again and keep her in a forceful hold through handcuffs. In the process, he’s also controlling the narrative. Those who knew him, colleagues and friends, will be saddened over this loss, but if they were to find out about his wife cheating on him, she’ll be blamed. Because, as previously said, all a woman has to do is slip once. With her dead husband’s blood splattered on her face, she’s left stranded in the dead of winter – Mark taking every precaution to make sure she has no means of escape, even getting rid of all her clothes so she’ll have nothing to prevent her from freezing to death. All that’s left hanging in their closet is her wedding dress. A symbol of the everlasting love and honor she promised while wearing it is now covered in blood and used to drag her husband’s lifeless body. To make matters worse, two men show up looking to steal diamonds that are kept in the closet safe. In death, Mark plays with them too as they become a part of his game. And, of course, when things go sour, they blame Emma too. Reliving her trauma once again, she must somehow evade these would-be thieves with a corpse chained to her arm.
Fox delivers an outstanding performance and it’s thrilling to watch her and Callan Mulvey, who is threatening and impulsive as one of the film’s thieves, go head to. For a while, Fox doesn’t have many lines as she grunts in frustration and anger for much of what is a physically demanding role, and it’s entertaining to watch her character outsmart the invaders. She moves around the house like a ghost. The film’s sound design helps her stay hidden as the wind makes the floorboards creak and doors close by themselves. Just like the men, the viewer also doesn’t know where she is at times. But she can’t evade them forever, and there are times where you worry for her survival. Till Death is effective in creating suspense and bringing a feeling of stress out of the viewer. Dale and writer Jason Carvey create a real surprise – a game of survival that’s sleek and full of unsettling tension. There are many twisted moments, hooking you in and cutting deep. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Movie Score: 3.5/5