All is fair in love, marriage, and life-threatening war, in the newest dramatic thriller, ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Michael (Stephen Bishop) and Madison (Annie Ilonzeh) Roland had planned to spend the rest of their lives together after getting married, until one day Michael’s scary controlling ways turned their perfect marriage into a hostile game of escape for Madison. With the help of her best friend, Chelsea (Robinne Lee), Madison decides to get away. After adopting a new identity, she meets Alex Stone (Taye Diggs) and learns to love again. All is well, until Michael discovers Madison’s whereabouts, and recreates the nightmare she once lived all over again. ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ is written and directed by Chris Stokes, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving domestic abuse, violence, some sexuality and adult language.
My opinion for the most overcrowded subgenre of films is in that of black stalker dramas that give us three or four of these similarly structured plots each year. Already this year, ‘Unforgettable’ made its presence felt, but the magic enveloped in ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ makes that previous film feel like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. This is an awful movie, highlighted by the cheapest of production qualities that give it that VH1 Sunday Night Drama visual enticement. I didn’t even learn about the existence of this movie until two days ago, and I debated even seeing it until I saw the laughably bad acting and redundant plot that instantly made me yell out “Another one of these?” ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ feels like walking down the aisle with a property that you truly know in your heart is doomed for failure, but you’re forced to love it all the same even when the red flags pop up like weeds all over this film. Is there anything salvagable about it? Only the positivity of laughing at its unintentionally benign ideas for how the real world works, exchanging common sense for scandalous propaganda at every mind-numbingly sufferable turn. It all makes a case for possibly the worst movie that I have seen of 2017, and that is saying a lot to compete with the gutter offerings of this underwhelming year.
First of all is the character framing for the film that really made me question who truly was the villain in a movie that centered around female domestic abuse. The first act of the movie showcases Michael in a way that any of us can understand and reason with. Sure he’s a little too fake in personality on the outside, but never anything that feels like a foreshadowed warning for events to come. Madison is presented as a pushy, self-centered, and even forceful protagonist that wants, needs, and has had to have a baby since she was five years old. If you think I am embellishing here for the sake of a review, you’re sadly mistaken. I found it disgusting that right up until Michael laid a hand on Madison, that I was fully in his camp of thought process considering he has given her everything up to this point. Despite how little I believe that no signs of Michael’s abuse have popped up to Madison up to this point, I find it even more difficult that these two have anything in common with the lack of internal chemistry or bumbling line reads that omits between them. It goes nowhere often, and each scene feels worse than the previous one because of the kind of dialogue that beats the obvious intention of direction over the head of the audience with each crushing blow.
The tide is turned about thirty minutes into the film when Madison (Spoiler) decides to fake her death in the most elaborate scheme that I have ever seen. She hires a male friend to play her doctor, he renders her unconscious with a medicine that stops her heart for two minutes, and somehow the hospital stands by without asking any questions? Considering they have to use an actual hospital room for the procedure, I don’t see how this secret was kept successfully. You know what’s even more asinine? How did Michael not once ask to see his wife pre or post death announcement? The movie doesn’t care about these questions because it has to keep going with painfully mangled storytelling that often feels out of place from scene to scene. I say this because there is one scene where Madison is beaten up by her husband, only to be happy and talkative in the next. Yet the scene after this will show her as battered and bottled up because of the events of two scenes prior. NOTHING MAKES SENSE. If a film’s story is a straight and narrow line, this film’s sequencing looks a kid with a disruptive bladder is drawing on an etch-a-sketch. It’s so hard to stay invested in something that is constantly moving and doesn’t slow down in order to soak in the weight of each pivotal (If you can call it that) moment of plot details.
Refusing to be outdone by the flawed screenplay, is the visual presentation that truly made me furious on how a film of this amateur level got funded. The editing is so choppy that it often feels like it cuts out just at the moment when we’re making up some ground on character development or maximizing the dramatic tension. An example of this poor editing is a scene early on in which Michael is visiting the graves of his deceased Mother and Father. After he’s done talking to them, he walks away, the scene cuts, and the next scene is him back at his house knocking on the door. Without a new establishing shot, this feels like the scene is trying to tell us that he has two buried parents in his backyard amongst a field of other unrelated tombstones. If you think this is bad though, it doesn’t hold a candle to the music video style of artistic direction that the film’s soundtrack and cinematography takes us through. For some strange reason, the film feels like it is being forced to sell the soundtrack, because we get these uproaring musical cues in each scene that play at such an ear-shattering level that I couldn’t help but clutch my head from the voices that were seeping in. If this isn’t enough, we can’t go literally two minutes or two scenes without a lyrical song playing in the background to strike up the mood of a particular scene or to introduce the first in a series of musical montages that we are treated to in this film. The worst of this offering definitely comes from Taye Diggs workout regimen that includes him listening to deathgore metal unlike anything you’ve heard in the movie. It’s funny enough to envision Taye Diggs enjoys music where you can’t understand the lyrics because of thunderous guitar chords, but it’s even funnier when you consider this is a soundtrack that includes Flo-Rida’s ‘My House’ and ‘Son of a Preacher Man’.
As for performances, there’s nothing worthy enough to even remotely save this flop, but Taye Diggs in always enjoyable to see in the few scenes he pops up in late in the movie. Again though, there’s no chemistry between he and Ilonzeh to match her previous establishment with Bishop, so the film is missing the kind of depth in heart from these performances that make you invested in th well-being of their characters. Ilonzeh and Bishop trade in demeanor and commitment to character for the ability to yell their dialogue every few minutes into the camera. Somewhere this is considered acting, but here it feels annoyingly childish in representation for how real people act. Is there yelling in relationships? Of course, but you build to that moment, you don’t start off with the amps on 10 to begin with. Bishop has the visuals of a prominent psychotic antagonist, but his delivery often makes his register feel forced and hollow of the establishing anger that is buried deep beneath his discovery of betrayal. Stokes often writes him into a corner, taking him down roads of unoriginality that many more established actors have traveled down years before him.
THE VERDICT – There was never a minute where I was convinced that I was going to enjoy ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, but the uninspiring overall presentation and lack of emotional center make this campy thriller a death sentence for staying awake. Stokes surgically removes logic from his story, parading us through one event after another of implausable consequence that doesn’t even remotely touch base with the human spirit. Could I be taking this a bit too seriously? Perhaps, but if a B-grade thriller flick can’t even embrace the fun within its own inane concepts, why should I feel light-hearted for it wasting 96 minutes of my life? Til Death Do Us Part? Why wait?