By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Dani Lennon, Morena Baccarin and William Shatner
Directed by Jason Axinn
Written by Tanya Klein and Jim Cirile
If Saturday-morning cartoons were still a thing, TO YOUR LAST DEATH (on VOD/digital today) most certainly would not have made the cut—at least not without a gaggle of beheaded network execs and censors lining the hallway to the director of programming’s office. To get a sense of the bonkers banquet of surrealist horror this utterly improbable, gleefully deranged animated feature lays out, imagine the aesthetic of ARCHER crosspollinated with the old-school gonzo vibe of AEON FLUX and HEAVY METAL, then fused onto a ultraviolent, rollicking, extremely weird David-Lynch-meets-Steve-Miner supernatural nightmarescape. Now add the voices of William Shatner, Bill Moseley, Ray Wise and FIREFLY/DEADPOOL star Morena Baccarin to the mix.
Sounds wild, right? You have no idea.
Here’s the setup: Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) has got daddy issues. Namely, she’s got such an issue with her sadistic, war-profiteering father Cyrus (Wise), she’s founded a small, floundering nonprofit called The Peace and Nonviolence Action Committee. No surprise, then, that Miriam is reluctant to attend a family meeting called by her father at his supervillain-worthy corporate headquarters. It’s an intuition she should’ve paid more attention to: Cyrus announces he’s dying of brain cancer and then, in a filicidal rage, sets his minions—led by the horrifying Pavel (Moseley) upon Miriam, her sister Kelsy (Florence Hartigan) and her brothers Collin (Benjamin Siemon) and Ethan (Damien Haas). Only Miriam survives.
If that seems like a spoiler, it’s not. In fact, TO YOUR LAST DEATH hasn’t even kicked into second gear at this point. Let’s let the official synopsis take you through the looking glass: “[A] race of intergalactic gamblers who wager on human conflicts as bloody sport have chosen Miriam as the subject for their next game. Refereeing the match: The mysterious entity known only as the Gamemaster [Baccarin] who has the power to reverse time and reconfigure events as they play out.” And so Miriam’s life is rewound 24 hours, providing her the opportunity to attempt to turn the tables on her father and rewrite the bloodbath more in her siblings’ favor. Of course, as viewers who know their KING LEAR (“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport”) may suspect, the celestial remote controllers of this modern-day trial by ordeal can’t help but meddle, as our (potentially unreliable) narrator The Overseer (Shatner) offers us cryptic hints about what’s really going on.
To offer any further exposition would ruin the fun. Suffice it to say, director Jason Axinn and writers Tanya Klein and Jim Cirile do a terrific job of capitalizing on the boundarylessness of the medium, establishing a lifelike baseline and then hammering at its crack with hyperfantastical twists and imagery. TO YOUR LAST DEATH raises “everything and the kitchen sink” to a cosmic level and revels in its ability to annihilate convention.
Will TO YOUR LAST DEATH spark a new boom in animated horror features? It’s hard to say—and easy to imagine the novelty quickly wearing off. This is one strange amalgamation that got the mix of medium and madness right, however, and that’s worth celebrating.