'Til Death Do Us Part': Film Review
Christopher B. Stokes’ new feature co-stars Taye Diggs, Stephen Bishop and Annie Ilonzeh.
If you didn’t already know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, then Til Death Do Us Part will serve as a potent reminder that with support and determination, abusive relationships don’t need to be endured, they can be terminated. Billed as a psychological thriller, the film actually plays more like a tense melodrama, a hybrid formula likely to draw a more diverse audience to theaters and assure continued interest in home entertainment formats.
Writer-director Christopher B. Stokes took on Til Death Do Us Part specifically to highlight the courage and determination of domestic violence survivors, a noble aspiration that clearly identifies the project as a well-intentioned message movie. The fact that it also succeeds as a domestic drama is a credit to both the filmmakers and cast, who appear totally committed to the cause.
Los Angeles homemaker Madison (Annie Ilonzeh) is similarly devoted to her husband Michael (Stephen Bishop) and the two appear to have an ideal married life. He’s a successful business entrepreneur and she’s a former nurse adjusting to life as a stay-at-home wife. As they celebrate their wedding anniversary, this veneer of perfection begins showing signs of stress. Michael, still traumatized by the tragic death of his mother, chafes at Madison’s desire for kids. She’s so obsessed with parenting that she’s already buying baby clothes for a child yet to be born, putting her at odds over a fundamental marital issue with her controlling husband.
So when she finally does get pregnant, despite Michael’s attempts to thwart her, Madison couldn’t be happier. Except Michael isn’t, and before long her unplanned pregnancy unleashes his violent resentment, as emotional neglect leads to physical abuse. Madison turns to her best “I always have your back” friend Chelsea (Robinne Lee) to help her find a way out of her increasingly perilous marriage. Together they devise an audacious plan to safeguard Madison and her unborn child, not only risking Michael’s wrath, but also her lifelong desire to become a loving mother.
Stokes (You Got Served) and co-writer Marques Houston trace a tricky arc for the film, first establishing Madison and Michael’s relationship and his descent into abusive possessiveness, then switching gears to thriller mode. It’s not an altogether smooth transition, particularly when they downshift to drama again to introduce a new love interest for Madison before returning to a concluding action sequence.
The thriller subplot in particular suffers from plausibility issues, but with audiences more likely to focus on relationship dynamics rather than plotting, the filmmakers may be able to avoid too close an examination of the storyline. What may not escape notice, however, is the pic’s affirmation of violence as a viable means to resolve conflict, as long as it’s meted out in self-defense.
Certainly the cast provides an enjoyable diversion, despite the fraught nature of the material. Bishop (Safe House) embodies a chronic fraudster’s mix of charm and menace, first showering Madison with attention and affection, then leveraging his very conditional devotion to perniciously manipulate her thoughts and behavior.
Ilonzeh (All Eyez On Me) smoothly handles the dramatic scenes, tracking Madison’s transformation from victim to survivor, but falters somewhat when confronted with action sequences. Taye Diggs as Madison’s new neighbor, a widowed schoolteacher with a young daughter, seems almost too perfect for boyfriend material, but fortunately he doesn’t lay things on too thickly, except perhaps in the final scenes when he’s called upon to decisively play the hero.
Stokes and his cinematographer, frequent collaborator Joel Layogan, opt for a highly polished style that’s meticulously production-designed almost to a fault. More planning could have gone into the action scenes, however, which sometimes suffer from convoluted continuity and logical lapses.
Production companies: Footage Films, 51MM Millimeter Productions
Distributor: Novus Content
Cast: Stephen Bishop, Annie Ilonzeh, Taye Diggs, Robinne Lee, Malik Yoba, Obba Babatunde, Draya Michelle
Director: Christopher B. Stokes
Screenwriters: Christopher B. Stokes, Marques Houston
Producers: Marques Houston, Jerome Jones, Jarell Houston, Shondrella Avery, Taye Diggs
Executive producers: Rob Johnson, Patrick Johnson Sr., Patrick Johnson, Jr., Christopher B. Stokes
Director of photography: Joel Layogan
Costume designer: Adrene Ashford
Editor: Harvey White II
Music: Immanuel Rich
Rated PG-13, 99 minutes