What a, well, wicked mixture To Your Last Death serves up. It’s a slasher film with a Twilight Zone-style framework narrated by William Shatner. Ray Wise stars as a villainous corporate CEO dishing out Saw-level sadism. In addition, Morena Baccarin provides a cosmic twist. And did I mention it’s animated!?
The confluence of elements makes To Your Last Death a refreshing experience in a landscape where redundancy often abounds.
Storywise, TYLD presents the resilient Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon). She limps into view lugging a fire axe just moments after a series of brutal events in a high-rise corporate headquarters.
Shatner informs us that Miriam’s a player in a bizarre game. It’s a game that will soon force her to relive events. As she recovers in a hospital and begins police questioning, the Gamemaster arrives. That’s Baccarin’s fate-like character, complete with a mask and supervillain costume. She’s on hand to weave a bit of back-hand magic. In other words, the Gamemaster hits reset to please a wagering and bloodthirsty cosmic audience. Outcomes must be satisfying!
Miriam’s reunited with siblings and whisked back to the meeting that set the events we missed in motion. The meeting is with her dad (Wise), an abusive parent whose exposure by his kids cost him the U.S. Vice Presidency. He’s backed by Dick Tracy/Batman-level henchmen and has puzzles, traps and brutal tortures in store for his offspring. Think lots of bloodletting, blades, chainsaws.
Even heartfelt character changes and reconciliation are up for reboots. In a way this is Saw meets Run, Lola, Run. Expectations are constantly twisted and re-spun and twisted again, so even jaded viewers will find some surprises and probably satisfaction.
I suppose some discussion of the animation is demanded here. It’s vivid and impressive, sort of a stylized riff on ‘70s Saturday morning adventure cartoons with meticulous lip movement and that occasional sense of a cutout figure moving in front of a background. The film makes the most of animated possibilities with its sci-fi/fantasy-tinged environment.
Here’s the down side on that. Stylized animation mutes the impact of the occasional extreme gore. Cartoon blood spatter and rolling heads don’t quite deliver the punctuation points they would in a realistic universe. That means the middle’s maybe not quite as intense as it might have been.
The twists, character development and performances compensate quite a bit, however. We root for Miriam’s survival. That builds to a third act that’s pretty intense.
Performances contribute to the overall quality as well. Shatner’s Rod Serling-style vocals calibrate expectations and carry us into this world nicely. Wise is intense and profane, and happily his deal included his likeness. Baccarin’s vocals deal just the right degree of sinister, while Lennon, of The Love Witch, keeps Miriam multi-dimensional as do performers playing other siblings.
Above all, To Your Last Death scores highest as an intriguing novelty and deserves pluses for dishing up a fresh dose of slasher-horror.
Wicked Rating: 8/10
Director: Jason Axinn
Writer: Jim Cirile, Tanya C. Klein
Stars: Morena Baccarin, William Shatner, Ray Wise, Dani Lennon, Benjamin Siemon, Florence Hartigan, Damien C. Haas
Release Date: March 17th, 2020
Studio/Production Company: Peppermint & Company