At the beginning of To Your Last Death, Miriam DeKalb (voiced by Dani Lennon) bursts out of a building clutching an axe and covered in blood, as two mysterious figures look on (one instructing the other to “lock the bets”). Exclaiming “He killed them! He killed my family! He killed them all!”, Miriam is arrested by the police – and after an opening credit sequences showing a network of sparking synapses, we see a (similar-looking) shot of a glowing galaxy, while the unmistakable voice of William Shatner refers to a game beginning in the vast void between stars.
In other words, this is going to be one crazy film, marrying intra-familial horror to off-planet gambling – and the fact that the film is presented in cartoon form, deploying limited animation techniques reminiscent of the television series Archer, only adds to the anything-goes artifice of it all. “You realise that some people might find your story a bit far-fetched,” Miriam is told by an investigating police officer, after she has revealed that her estranged, abusive father, the arms-dealing CEO Cyrus (Ray Wise), summoned her together with her siblings Ethan (Damien C. Haas), Collin (Benjamin Siemon) and Kelsy (Florence Hartigan) in order to kill them (and succeeded in the case of his other three adult children). Yet this story has not even begun to get far-fetched: for an alien gambling syndicate, led by the Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin), is about to send Miriam, a charity worker for the Peace and Non-Violence Action Committee, back in time to relive the encounter with her father that, once already, she has only barely survived, all so that they can place bets on the outcomes, altered both by Miriam’s foreknowledge of events and their own interventions.
Though he has a vast amount of experience directing and editing over 150 short films and TV episodes, To Your Last Death is Jason Axinn’s first feature – and, working from a script by Jim Cirile and Tanya C. Klein, he has crafted a hyperviolent, twisty cat-and-mouse sci-fi thriller, all unfolding in the arena of DeKalb Enterprise’s closed-off corporate headquarters. It is heavy on Saw-style tortures, Belko Experiment-like office-space Mayhem, while its mercenary henchmen (voiced by Bill Moseley, Ruairi Douglas and Steve Geiger) and daddy of all villains are straight out of a Bond movie. Its rewinding dynamic owes something of a debt to Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day (1993) and Christopher Landon’s horror reimagining Happy Death Day (2017), or even the alien-observed death matches of Paul Hough’s The Human Race (2013) – but for the most part it takes its reset-and-play-on structure from countless videogames.
Once pacifist Miriam has committed to playing this game to its absurdly bloody end, we get to witness a tense domestic conflict in which sibling may be set against sibling in what Shatner’s narrator calls “a petri dish of mutually assured destruction”, but ultimately it is the patriarchy that must die. If, along the way, Miriam is rulebound to keep things entertaining for the amusement of the on-looking extra-terrestrials, then any other viewers are unlikely to complain.
Summary: Jason Axinn’s hyperviolent anime To Your Last Death offers an alien-eye view on our capacity for self-destruction at a familial and corporate level.
© Anton Bitel