Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our inscrutable whims. This week: One more time, we’re accounting for our sins of omission and looking back on the best movies of 2021 we didn’t review.
In today’s diminished star market, where big names will pop up in any number of direct-to-somewhere nonevent movies, it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff—or, more often, the mere chaff from the active poison. So it makes sense that Till Death, a Megan Fox movie that received a small-scale theatrical release simultaneous with a bargain-priced streaming rental debut, didn’t garner much attention last summer. It’s even more understandable given that Till Death came out near-simultaneously with Midnight In The Switchgrass, Fox’s first foray into the world of skeezy low-budget thrillers where Bruce Willis skulks in a parked car for 10 minutes to collect his ill-gotten paycheck. Till Death, by contrast, is the kind of best-case scenario that gives undue hope to genre aficionados: a well-crafted, unpretentious vehicle that affords a former A-lister some B-movie glory.
The first 20 minutes or so make this description sound like a damned lie. They feature Emma (Fox) and Mark (Eoin Macken) sleepwalking through some morose and fairly unconvincing relationship drama, as textbook psychological abuse lurks beneath the strained surfaces of an anniversary celebration. Director S.K. Dale and writer Jason Carvey make a twist out of their own tedium when, following a seeming reconciliation, Emma wakes up to a grim surprise. Mark lays his controlling-psycho cards on the table by engineering a situation where his wife is handcuffed to a dead (and bloody) body; stranded in a remote and chilly location; and left with minimal clothing, no working cell phone, and a pair of vengeance-minded creeps on their way to her. A few recordings left behind confirm that Mark is more or less Jigsaw as a scorned finance bro.
With her back against the wall, and half her face neatly painted with splattered blood, Fox comes alive—with scorned determination, yes, but also weariness, frustration, and gallows humor. (“Thought you would be lighter without all that blood,” she deadpans to her corpse companion after galumphing him into a non-working car.) It’s up there with Jennifer’s Body as one of her best performances, and though Death is more of a gory thriller than a proper horror film, the two pictures share a mordant sensibility. The central metaphor—Emma dragging around the burden of a toxic relationship—may not be subtle, but Dale and Carvey don’t hammer it too hard. Fox has to recite a couple of lines about it, one clunky and one crisp, and then it’s back to the grind.
The grind includes an impressively methodical guidebook of ridiculous logistics: how to drag a body across the frozen ground without the benefit of shoes; how to strategically withhold the combination of an important safe; how to use small snowdrifts to hide just out of plain sight. Dale has a knack for camera placement, especially with overhead shots, that makes every step of these processes a clear and precise piece of geography, arranged across a sleek 83 minutes (or 90 with slow-rolling credits).
It’s easy to overhype a movie like Till Death; it’s nasty fun, not an all-time classic. Still, fans of low-rent, old-school programmers should recognize the atypical elegance of a production hailing from Millennium Media, which has forged long and mostly bad working relationships with stars like Nicolas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Gerard Butler, and Jason Statham. Those performers were often recruited to imitate past glories. Fox never had the chance to self-brand like that; she was long handcuffed to the Transformers movies and the ingrained sexism that created her subsequent bad reputation. Till Death represents a satisfying break.