Till Death. 2021. Directed by S.K. Dale. Screenplay by Jason Carvey.
Starring Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth, & Aml Ameen.
Rated R / 88 minutes
Horror / Thriller
DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS!
Till Death—S.K. Dale’s feature film debut as director—is a fun, nasty little piece of work, though it might not be as good as it is without the excellent performance from Megan Fox, whose talents in the industry have been criminally underrated (not to mention improperly used). Although there are elements in the film that are definitively horror I’d call this more of a gritty thriller, through and through. The story and its devious plot have heavy things to say about the patriarchal view of marriage. The film also tackles trauma in a compelling way through Fox’s protagonist and the harrowing journey she must undertake to be free of her husband’s figurative, and literal, shackles.
Till Death quickly introduces the audience to Emma (Megan Fox)—she’s an unhappy woman married to Mark (Eoin Macken) and having an affair with tom (Aml Ameen). When she and her husband go on a trip to a remote cabin in celebration of their anniversary, she’s soon made brutally aware that hubby means for this to be the last trip they ever take; together or otherwise. Emma winds up handcuffed to Mark after he blows his brain out. And that, believe it or not, is the least of her worries. Because Mark hired two men to come finish her off, too. One of them just happens to be a haunting figure from Emma’s past. This means Emma has to not only survive her husband’s sick revenge, she also has to survive reliving her traumatic past.
“I’m going to cut myself free of you
if it’s the last thing I do.”
Not that I’d want it to be but if Till Death were a bit funnier you could call this a satire on marriage. It isn’t funny, it’s deadly serious. So, instead, it’s a skewering of the concept of marriage as dictated by patriarchal society. The old patriarchal joke about ‘the ball and chain’ at home is subverted here with the literal handcuffing of Emma to her dead husband Mark’s corpse. Emma already had to deal with a controlling, patriarchal husband before he was literal dead weight. Mark tries to control everything about his wife, down to what she wears. We even see him push dessert on her. Lots of people might not register the various microaggressions in the early part of the film, but their implications will certainly be recognisable to many, especially to women. The film does its best work with these themes through symbolism.
The most prominent symbol to me, just in terms of how it looks visually, is the wedding dress. Emma discovers her wedding dress in a room hung up like a Gothic symbol—the thing that, if Mark had his way, leads Emma to her doom. It becomes like a ghost, coming back to haunt Emma in her most troubled moments. Mark, before killing himself, set the place up in the guise of a haunted house where he could leave Emma after his death to be haunted by their marriage’s memories, from the wedding dress to the photographs downstairs from their wedding with her face scratched out in them. Yet instead of succumbing to the horrors of memory, Emma fights her ghosts by using those symbols meant to haunt and taunt her. The ’till death do us part’ portion of traditional Christian marriages is most evidently turned into a visual when Emma uses her wedding dress to drag her husband’s dead, bloody corpse around the cabin. A symbol of her oppression, and what would be her death, becomes one of potential liberation as she puts that patriarchal symbol to use in her favour.
What I find most powerful about Till Death is how it depicts Emma and the way she’s forced to deal with her trauma. Apart from the hideous way Emma’s husband tries to get revenge on her for having an affair, her confrontation with Bobby Ray (Callan Mulvey), the man who attacked her a decade prior, is a fascinating exploration of someone having to all too literally revisit their past trauma in order to move forward; Emma’s not only battling to free herself figuratively—and literally—from her husband’s control, she’s fighting to escape the trauma binding her to the past and, in a sense, to her husband, as well. The fact that Emma must physically fight the man who traumatised her is terrifying and adds a whole extra layer to the tense emotions she experiences.
Again, everything still comes back to Emma’s dead, shitty husband.
An important symbol that’s not an image to merely haunt Emma in her husband’s makeshift haunted house is the room with the photographs from their wedding. More specifically, Mark hangs a photo from the police report of Emma’s attack showing her beaten and bruised face after Bobby Ray brutalised her. So there’s a doubly troubling depth here with Emma forced to face Bobby Ray again and also have to revisit the photograph of the injuries he caused her. The photograph of her battered face is symbolic of the weaponisation of trauma. Mark acted like her protector until he felt slighted and his fragile male ego was wounded; after that, he turned Emma’s trauma back onto her. This is an unfortunately prevalent fact about men and how they’ll weaponise the trauma of women when they feel it’s necessary. This isn’t only the behaviour of faceless trolls on the internet who try to use women’s stories of sexual assault and abuse against them, it’s the behaviour of men who act like they care about women, just as Mark did with Emma, and it sadly happens everyday, on- and offline.
If it weren’t for Megan Fox then Till Death would be largely forgettable. Yes, there are some solid themes being explored in the screenplay, but aside from the twisty premise of the film aside there isn’t anything wildly unique here. That’s why Fox, with her emotional and relatable performance, really does the most impressive work of the film. She sells every minute of Emma’s predicament, even injecting a little humour into the performance at times, too. And were it not for Fox all the interesting themes in the screenplay would fall flat because she’s the one who ultimately draws the viewer into the story as a whole. I, for one, hope that Fox does more horror, particularly considering Jennifer’s Body has been given a somewhat reappraisal in the horror community—not even my cup of tea, yet she’s great in it.
Thanks to Fox, the themes in Till Death do shine and they transform what could’ve been deeply mediocre into a vicious meditation on men, marriage, and trauma. There’s a disturbing honesty about marriage in the film, through the lens of a horror-thriller, that I found surprising, and still do the more I think about it. The best aspect of Till Death is how Emma’s journey through trauma reflects the real life struggle of actual women, regardless of whether they’re married. Emma takes the brunt of men’s frustrations throughout the film: her husband hypocritically runs around cheating on her but when she has an affair he tries to kill her, and Bobby Ray, a violent misogynist, tries to blame his financial troubles on the woman he stabbed. We see, in many instances, how Emma—taking the place of all women—becomes the scapegoat for men and their fragility, over and over. Luckily she’s able to break the cycle in the end and crawl away with her life, and limbs, intact. The final image of Emma removing her wedding ring, that final bond between her and Mark, and letting it slip into a hole in the frozen lake may be a bit on-the-nose, but it’s a definitive image of a woman setting herself free, by none other hand than her own.