Review: To Your Last Death (2020)

Directed by: Jason Axinn. Starring: Morena Baccarin, William Shatner, Ray Wise. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Released: October 6, 2020 (on Blu-Ray).

This review contains minor spoilers.

I love animation in general, but I haven’t watched a ton of violent animated films, so I was happy to watch To Your Last Death. It’s a 2-D hand-drawn animated film whose style compares closest to TV’s Archer, and is a great mix of horror, action and animation.

Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) and her siblings are invited by their powerful father, Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise) to his office building and learn that he has ulterior motives. As Miriam recovers from the night in the hospital, she’s visited by a powerful entity called the Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin), who offers her the chance to jump in time 24 hours earlier and do things over in order to save her brothers and sister. This is all the while members of the Gamemaster’s species gamble on the evening’s outcome.

When it comes to the horror of the film, it’s actually never necessarily scary. It’s intense throughout but the extent of the horror is just a lot of gore. The film’s bloody and fun, and a lot of the other horror has to do with rigged traps personal to each character, like something you’d see in a Saw film. There’s one scene that would be tough for me to watch in live-action, and it looks just as gnarly in animation. This torture porn aspect is mixed with a time-warped story that isn’t technically a time-loop like Groundhog Day, but time is manipulated in a way that if the bettors don’t like how Miriam is playing the game, they have the option of a do-over of the situation.

This lends well to the clever screenplay and occasional unpredictability of it all with what will happen next. Everything about the writing is solid throughout, but it’s the third act of this film that is truly fun and thrilling as it takes a surprising turn. The action always looks great, as the horror and action go hand in hand here with the gore and the brutal kills. The film and its animation looks great, though the only time it looks wonky is when the characters run, but that’s impossible to make that look realistic when it’s hand-drawn. Carl Frank generally does a great job with the film’s art direction.

Dani Lennon as Miriam DeKalb in To Your Last Death. (Courtesy of Quiver Distribution.)

Director Jason Axinn gets great voice performances out of his cast, especially Ray Wise as the villainous Cyrus. He’s the puppet master getting them together and trying to get revenge on his children as he will die soon; and it’s exciting to watch the turn tables turn, and it’s also super cool learning what traps Cyrus has in store for each of his children. This aspect of learning about their family dynamics and their relationships with each other leans into well-written family drama. We get the sense of the broken family early on and the tension when Miriam walks into the lobby.

Her dynamic with her sister Kelsey (Florence Hartigan) is the most interesting aspect here and has some of the strongest acting moments in their characters. A lot of the drama is negative so these characters aren’t always likable, but Miriam is generally an exciting hero for this story. As a character, her job of heading a non-profit about promoting global peace initiatives is interesting as a direct contrast of her father making money from war.

She’s a strong character in general, but is very amusing when she hides in spots when the madness starts, because you just know the Gamemaster and her friends are going to find a way to get her ass moving, because it’s no fun watching someone in one spot for too long. This aspect of To Your Last Death with the Gamemaster is so creative, and I love the idea of them betting on this crazy event. Morena Baccarin does a great job of voicing the Gamemaster, a mysterious entity who just delights in the madness, as do we.

Cyrus’ henchmen also bring a lot of fun to this script in how intimidating they are. There’s a bit role here by Bill Moseley that is fun while it lasts, too. One more note about the cast, William Shatner plays a character called The Overseer, simply coming in randomly to narrate and fill in some blanks. This is surely the most vague choice in the screenplay by Jim Cirile and Tanya C. Klein, but Shatner is a welcome addition to a talented cast.

Score: 75/100

To Your Last Death releases today, Oct. 6, on Blu-Ray and DVD in the U.S, and is currently available on platforms such as iTunes, Amazon Video and Vudu

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