Within the horror genre, there are countless sub-genres that exist to define the genre as a whole: slasher, ghost stories, torture porn, revenge thrillers, psychological horror, etc. However, one area that doesn’t really seem to have any sort of traction is animated horror. Outside of family-friendly and anime/anime-adjacent fare, scares aren’t really something that get explored very much within the genre. To Your Last Death seeks to be the antidote to the poison that is the underrepresentation of animated horror. Crowdfunded on IndieGogo, the film has been a long gestating project for director Jason Axinn since 2015, and has been touring film festivals since its premiere in 2019 (including North Carolina’s Nevermore Film Festival).
Miriam DeKalb (voiced by Dani Lennon) is one of the four children of billionaire Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise), a cruel father who calls Miriam and her siblings, Kelsy (Florence Hartigan), Ethan (Damien Haas), and Collin (Ben Siemon), to his skyscraper to discuss a family matter. Previously, Cyrus’s children publicly denounced him during his bid for Vice President, and now, Cyrus has a sadistic game of revenge planned for them with the help of his equally sadistic entourage and gruesome torture traps. In a story with elements of time travel, alternate universes, and repressed memories, Miriam must find a way to survive her father’s attacks, her siblings’ volatility, and her own self.
To Your Last Death is animated in the style of a motion comic, and while Pixar this certainly is not, it’s an attractive enough film with a clear aesthetic vision about itself. Is it a bit too ambitious for the resources it has? Sure, but if anything, it’s one of the more admirable elements the film.
Beyond that, there aren’t many.
Functioning as a sort of high-tech hybrid between Saw and Hereditary, the film never really catches on to the things that actually make either of those films even remotely effective. While over the top and campy, the violence in To Your Last Death doesn’t hold any sort of weight, becoming more of an exercise in pseudo-edginess than one in actual horror. It all comes across like a teenager trying to make something as violent as possible without any understanding that an effective horror film, violent or not, requires something to actually care about for any of the bloodshed to hold any weight.
And then there’s the Hereditary-esque side of things that also falls terribly short of actually making anything remotely thrilling or fun. The biggest issue here is that everyone is so unlikable and repulsive that you don’t want to root for anyone to actually survive, regardless of the side they fall on. Unlikable characters can be an asset to stories quite a bit, but in building tension within a horror film, you have to create some sort of dimension to the characters to make you invested enough to even care if they get ripped apart by a torture device. This dimension is what makes films that take their time fleshing characters out so great, and it’s even what made the viscerally grisly parts of the first few Saw films so effective. After that, its lack of regard for anything resembling narrative cohesion sent the series spiraling off a cliff into something that wasn’t even sadistically fun anymore. To Your Last Death somehow fails both, and it becomes a slog of an experience.
And we haven’t even gotten into the interdimensional elements that the film throws in there to spice things up. Sure, we get the only truly interesting character in these sequences in Morena Baccarin’s wonderfully voiced Gamemaster, but…what the fuck, man? Simplicity is often the thing that can actually make a film stand out more amongst the crowd, given that the simplicity is well-thought and skillfully executed. Throwing anything and everything at a wall and hoping something sticks is more of a surefire method of a film blending into the background almost immediately. Without a vision of what a film wants to be, I have no reason to commit it to memory.
But let’s address the elephant in the room that’s making me look like a massive prude: this film doesn’t want to be deep, or compelling, or engaging. That’s all well-and-good, as some of the best horror films of the past few years have been tweaks on simple, skin-deep stories (see 2019’s Crawl), but To Your Last Death is so disappointing because, even despite this, it’s simply not enjoyable to watch. It’s a child desperately wanting your attention so badly that it’s willing to do anything and everything to keep the colors flashy and the gore plentiful, but when you’re inundated so heavily with so many extremes all at once, nothing feels extreme, and the cracks really begin to show within the structure of a film. Cracks in the structure of an already shaky narrative aren’t great.
I swear I’m really not trying to be a complete sociopath in reviewing this, but there’s nothing else you can describe To Your Last Death as than just a slog. It’s not really interesting beyond it being animated horror, the story is weak, the characters are lifeless, the gore is meaningless, it’s not scary, and it isn’t even remotely fun. It’s a film riddled with genre sins that seem to be asking for forgiveness because it’s one of the few films of its kind. While the animation is attractive and the voice acting solid, there aren’t too many cases to make for actually taking the time for this. There are simply too many other better options to choose from in every regard.
Available on VOD and digital March 17th, 2020.
Final score: 1 out of 5.