For a large portion of her career, Megan Fox has been unfairly pigeonholed. Bursting onto the scene in Michael Bay's 'Transformers' films, she was quickly defined by her sex appeal. She became the woman utilised to attract teenage boys to the cinema. For many, her allure became a direct translation of her value. However, screenwriter Diablo Cody once offered a more thoughtful perspective, believing that Fox, like the movie stars of old, brought a sense of mystique to the screen.
Cody's sentiment rings true when you examine the projects that allowed Fox to be more than just eye candy. In her stint on TV's 'New Girl', Fox showed that she had quite strong comedic timing, while in the Cody-penned 'Jennifer's Body', she was able to employ her screen persona to create a memorable horror villain. With each opportunity she's given to branch out, Fox rightly declares she deserves more than to be just an object of the male gaze. And in 'Till Death', Fox is given her best material yet.
Fox portrays Emma, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to her husband Mark (Eoin Macken, 'The Hole in the Ground'). The pair look to rekindle their spark when Mark whisks Emma away to their secluded lake house on the night of their anniversary. But things shift quickly when Emma finds herself handcuffed to her newly deceased husband the following morning. In the blistering cold, Emma finds herself trapped as her husband deploys a deadly revenge plot from beyond the grave. Not only does she need to brave the elements and the literal weight of her husband, but also two criminals on their way to finish her off.
'Till Death' is a great contained thriller, and one that thrives in its limitations. There's an inherent pressure in confining your story to a short runtime, limited cast, and even fewer locations, but the film does so with near ease. Once Emma finds herself chained to Mark, the film's pace is perfectly weighted as it builds its stakes sharply. Its deadly game of hide and seek gets suspenseful to the point of white-knuckle. And as you follow Emma at every turn, you find yourself watching the negative space in the frame. The fear of getting caught is palpable, and it's an absolute hoot.
First-time feature director S.K. Dale exhibits sleek control over tension and atmosphere, and he imbues this in how he makes use of his setting. In 'Till Death', you cannot escape the cold. It's the dead of winter, and as Emma fights through her ordeal, we are reminded of how unforgiving the cold can be. Visually speaking, Dale and cinematographer Jamie Cairney compose a beautifully shot film. But perhaps more impressively, Dale understands the innate unease associated with the season. It builds into the film's uneasy atmosphere and intelligently isolates Emma, both metaphorically and literally, as the hired killers hone in.
And in a word, that's how one can best describe the film; intelligent. 'Till Death' isn't a profound film, but it is wildly entertaining, and that can be challenging in this genre. Put someone in a position of survival and viewers will naturally discern what they would do in that situation. In that regard, the film trusts you, it doesn't spoon-feed information, and it feels all the more exhilarating when it's on you to keep up. When you think Emma should do something, it isn't too long before she exhausts that option. 'Till Death' presents a refreshingly intelligent protagonist. In many cases, these characters are either unrealistically astute or thunderously inept. 'Till Death' strikes a fine balance in what tends to make or break these types of films.
As we follow Emma at every turn, you find yourself watching the negative space in frame. The fear of getting caught is palpable, and it's an absolute hoot.
On that front, a lot of that also stems from Megan Fox's commanding performance. Something about her is effortlessly compelling, and the way she handles her evolving predicament is cooly done. Fox just oozes cool, and as we view the film through her eyes, you are quickly reminded that she can be towering on screen. She has that movie star appeal, and for a role like this, it is very well suited for her sensibilities. She brings a physical and committed performance to the table, and it's a joy to see her at work.
The only notable drawback is in the build-up to its inciting incident. By and large, the film exhibits quite a sharp economic approach to storytelling, but in getting to the lake house, things feel a tad sluggish. We learn fairly quickly that the relationship between Emma and Mark is bordering on comatose. Their conversations are strained, their chemistry is lacking, and we learn that their connection is dire perhaps too well. It's a minor complaint when a lot of the setup pays off down the line. However, it's fair to say things are a lot better once the chill kicks in.
'Till Death' is quietly getting released on digital services this week. And in an alternate world, it would face an even tougher fight to find an audience amidst the big blockbusters of the American summer. But for those of us still unable to visit the cinemas, 'Till Death' is more than a worthy substitute. S.K. Dale delivers an edge-of-your-seat thriller with a killer turn from Megan Fox at its centre. Irreconcilable differences have never been so good.