Tuesday, October 06, 2020

To Your Last Death: Animated Horror on DVD

It is your basic feel-good Hallmark family movie, except a gaggle of cosmic gamblers keep rewinding the narrative to make it bloodier. It is also animated. Regardless, Miriam Dekalb and her grown siblings will have to work together to survive the death-traps prepared by their evil father, or maybe they will just turn on each other in Jason Axinn’s To Your Last Death, which releases today on BluRay.

Arms-dealer industrialist Cyrus Dekalb always made his children miserable, so they returned the favor when he was nominated for Vice-President. Their tell-all press conference was the last time they were together. Now that old man Dekalb is facing his mortality, he naturally wants his revenge, so he called the family together, to bump them off, in spectacularly gruesome fashion.

Only Miriam survived, but that wasn’t sufficiently interesting for the mysterious Gamemaster. She gives the Dekalb “final girl” the chance for a do-over, to save her siblings and get her awful father, once and for all. However, the otherworldly game facilitator reserves the right to intervene in any way she sees fit, to keep the action interesting. This was all Dekalb’s idea, but it suits the all-seeing gamblers’ purposes just fine.

The way screenwriters Jim Cirile & Tanya C. Klein have their characters embrace outright sadism is really rather depressing. This is an animated film, but what it says about the human condition is sadly discouraging. Given the animated format, there is an obvious temptation to be edgy and take things over-the-top, but
To Your Last Death is just way too much at times. (As a point of reference, Joe Lynch managed to wring humor out of an office bloodbath in Mayhem without rubbing our noses in abject cruelty.)

Still, Dani Lennon and Morena Boccarin do some memorable voice-over work as Miriam Dekalb and the Gamemaster. The character design of the latter is also rather amusing (and obviously intended for a fanboy audience). William Shatner is prominently billed for voicing the Overseer, an unseen observer sort of like Uatu the Watcher in Marvel’s
What If. However, viewers should be aware he only has two or three minutes of screen time (but yes, he totally nails it). Ray Wise continues to be typecast as creepy psycho dads, but he certainly saves Axinn a lot of time establishing old man Dekalb’s sinister character.

The animation itself is deliberately stylized to ironically evoke the vibe of knowingly retro cartoons like
Funky Cops and Black Dynamite, but the violence remains a significant distraction. Clearly, Heavy Metal was an influence on Axinn and company, but TYLD never approaches that level of artistry. Animation enthusiasts can appreciate the attempt, To Your Last Death is too abrasive to connect. That’s why we must reluctantly decline to recommend, now that it is available on BluRay.