An animated hybrid of Happy Death Day and Saw, To Your Last Death has a devilishly clever concept that almost manages to reach the finish line before losing its way.
The plot is demented, but very original for a horror movie. Four estranged siblings are reunited by their arms dealer billionaire father, Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise, Batman: The Killing Joke). This isn’t a joyous family reunion though as Cyrus blames them for ruining his bid to be the vice president and now he wants revenge.
This isn’t a simple taking them off the inheritance payback though. It’s more of a take them out of this world revenge bit complete with sadistic death traps that play upon his children’s worst fears and dismissive remarks when sabotaging his candidacy. The death traps are inspired and would make Saw’s Jigsaw smile at their ingenuity.
Only eldest daughter, Miriam (Dani Lennon), is prepared because she’s already experienced this nightmare already. A mysterious woman named The Gamesmaster (Morena Baccarin, Gotham) has given her the chance to replay the events from the beginning and possibly save her siblings this time from horrific deaths. These death scenes are grisly and don’t lose any impact simply because they’re animated. Director Jason Axinn didn’t shortchange any of the gore due to the format and he builds up the suspense impressively.
The only catch is The Gamesmaster will affect the outcomes if she and her gambling buddies get bored or protest how a scenario is playing out. If Miriam successfully saves her sister, Kelsy (Florence Hartigan), her brothers Ethan (Damien C. Haas) or Collin (Benjamin Siemon) might get moved up on the kill chart.
Easily the most striking aspect of the film is its animation style. It’s designed in a way to resemble a motion comic book and a little like Archer. Characters have heavy “inking” definition and motion is largely restricted to the essential elements i.e. the head and torso might stay in place while a characters arms and legs move as they’re running. Quick movement is the animation weak spot, but based on the style it’s not unexpected.
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In keeping with slasher traditions, there’s some random nudity and obligatory babe in distress posing. The Gamesmaster is dressed like a 90s comic bad girl. There’s no weak link with the voice casting. Wise is fantastic as the diabolical patriarch and he fully conveys Cyrus’ venom and hatred for his family.
Lennon is also very strong with her performance, which calls for her to be emotionally distraught one moment, defiant the next and raging out in another. William Shatner provides a voice-over as the narrator who seems somewhat out of place given The Gamesmaster’s seemingly infinite power.
The biggest departure from Happy Death Day is arguably To Your Last Death’s major stumbling block. In that film, Tree learned the rules of the game and eventually seized control of her fate.
Casting Miriam as a pawn for a game takes away her ability to overcome the odds like constantly feeding her sleeping pills to deal with Freddy Krueger or keeping Laurie locked to one level against Michael Myers in Halloween.
There’s an inherent lack of fairness here that over time starts to dramatically take the fun out of the film. Eventually you get conditioned that Miriam is going to get screwed no matter what and all the suspense goes with that realization. Granted, horror movie final girls never have the easiest path, but it feels too arbitrary and random so when the finale arrives it comes off as anticlimactic.
Ending aside, To Your Last Death is a mostly enjoyable experience thanks to the freshness of the story, voice performances and an unwavering commitment to the gory animation concept.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Quiver Distribution