After forays with features like Fritz the Cat (1972), Heavy Metal (1981), and Cool World (1994), adult-oriented animated films became an anomaly of sorts. I would imagine this is because hardcore cartoons are challenging to market to the masses.
Moreover, animated stories aimed at adults found a home on TV. In the 31 years since the premiere of The Simpsons (1989-current), adult toons have been able to push the boundaries of their medium and become vast and versatile. So much so that any night of the week, you can tune into the late-night grown-up block of Cartoon Network known as Adult Swim to find such programming. Alas, except for anime, hand-drawn movies designed strictly for adults are a rarity. For this reason, To Your Last Death caught my attention when it dropped a couple of months back.
This animated action-horror hybrid tells the story of psychotic businessman and fallen politician Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise) and his four adult children — all of whom have failed Cyrus in his estimation. One night, the patriarch calls together his family at DeKalb Industries. They begrudgingly consent to his wish and almost immediately come to regret this decision. Once in his snare, Cyrus kills off each of his offspring in violent and tortuous fashions. Well, except for his eldest daughter, Miriam (Danni Lennon), who survives the ordeal. While in recovery, Miriam is visited by a powerful entity known as The Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin), who offers Miriam something she cannot refuse: a chance to travel back in time and save her siblings from their father’s fatal wrath!
To Your Last Death was originally entitled Malevolent and was intended to be a live-action film; crowdfunded through Indiegogo for $52,713. However, I highly doubt the final budget was hefty enough to meet the ambition of the end product, which essentially combines time travel and torture porn. Thankfully, first-time feature director Jason Axinn took the finances of his debut flick into account as well. Hence, why he pivoted into making To Your Last Death in the medium of animation instead. In taking this animated approach, Axinn and his animation team drew inspiration from both Metalocalypse (2006-2013) and Archer (2009-current) — influences which are evident to any fan animation.
Frankly, I think utilizing animation was the best decision the filmmakers made here. The animation style reminded of one that had a brief window of popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. (This same stylized, hand-drawn animation is also reminiscent of the bygone motion comics.) Now, this type of animation a little rough around the edges, but I think that adds to its charm. Sadly, the novelty of the animation wears off as the film wears on.
Nevertheless, it boasts an all-around excellent voice cast — notably, cult actors William Shatner and Bill Mosley, along with the aforementioned Wise — all of whom deliver performances which nearly transcend the animated medium. Unfortunately, these voices cannot save To Your Last Death from ultimately being a trite narrative. Sure, combining Groundhog Day (1993) with the Saw franchise and doing so in an Archeresque fashion is, as I said, novel. Alas, this hybrid of a story and the simplistic characters who drive it along quickly run out of gas after the first half-hour.
After that, it becomes painfully apparent that the time travel and torture subgenres share the same inherent issue. Both these types of tales, in my humble opinion, suffer from being repetitive to the point of rapidly becoming dull. Unfortunately, To Your Last Death is just the latest example of the glaring problem these genres share. Still, I have to commend these filmmakers and animators for achieving their vision by utilizing this medium.
To Your Last Death is Available for Purchase or Rental on Streaming Services, Blu-Ray, & DVD!