Sunday, April 26, 2015

Til Death Do Us Part (Odyssey Media/Til Productions, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s feature film on Lifetime was Til Death Do Us Part — a somewhat awkward title because the first word should be spelled either “Till” or “’Til,” with the apostrophe at the beginning indicating it’s supposed be a contraction of “Until” — which was carefully not advertised as a “world premiere” (the commercial breaks included a trailer for next week’s Lifetime feature, which is a “world premiere” — Cleveland Abduction, an adaptation of the true story about how a depressingly ordinary bus driver in Cleveland without access to the resources of the real-life Marquis de Sade or the male lead in Fifty Shades of Grey nonetheless kept three women as hostages in his basement and used them as sex slaves for over a decade — and as sleazy as the subject matter is, that one should be worth seeing) and is dated 2014 instead of 2015 on Til Death Do Us Part begins with the wedding of Sarah Marks (Haylie Duff) to Dr. Kevin Richardson (Ty Olsson, tall but stocky instead of lanky and bearded instead of clean-shaven like the bulk of Lifetime leading men), and it continues through a series of odd red herrings that leave us in some degree of some suspense as to where the dreadful menace that’s going to afflict Our Heroine will come from. Is it the sinister figure of the gardener, Alec Lowry (Lindsay Bourne — a boy named Lindsay?), who when the Richardsons move to a large house in a remote part of Washington state declares that he’s been the gardener in the neighborhood for 30 years and essentially appoints himself to the job? Is it the house itself, which some nice shots from director Farhad Mann and appropriately doomy music by Michael Neilson suggest may be haunted? Or is Lifetime merely giving us a domestic drama about the adjustment problems facing a newlywed couple in a strange area?

No, that can’t be — instead what they are giving us is a mind-control drama in which the danger the woman is facing comes from her overly controlling husband — sort of like Gaslight — with a few interesting wrinkles, like the drugs her doctor husband is having her take that are supposedly designed to control a heart condition but are actually hallucinogenics designed to make her hallucinate and feel like she’s going crazy (a gimmick used in a previous Lifetime movie, Not My Life, which forced viewers to suspend disbelief even more than this one does but was also considerably more exciting as a thriller) and the doctor’s sister Jolene (Magda Apanowicz), who dresses like a Lifetime “loose woman” and has such a powerful attachment to him that, as one of the characters says, it verges on the incestuous. (This part of the plot reminded me of the remarkable 1995 film Angels and Insects, in which a mild-mannered naturalist was allowed to marry into an aristocratic family but not to have sex with his new bride — because she was already in the throes of a long-term incestuous relationship with her brother and she needed cover in case the brother knocked her up.) One part of the plot is that the doctor has just been appointed head of the cardiovascular unit at the nearby hospital and is therefore earning enough money that his wife doesn’t have to work, but she loves her career — teaching — and doesn’t want to give it up. She takes a job as a substitute teacher at the local school and is befriended by colleague Ethan Walker (Zak Santiago), only Kevin immediately gets jealous when he sees Ethan give Sarah a ride home from work and decides to eliminate him, first by calling in a false tip that he’s molesting kids at the school and then, when he’s exonerated (relatively quickly and painlessly compared to how things like this go in real life), killing him by overpowering him and dispatching him with a lethal injection.

He does the same thing later to that pesky gardener, who accuses Kevin of knocking off his dog and then threatens to go to the police — it turns out Kevin’s real name is Cunningham and he was married once before to a woman who looked strikingly like Sarah, only she died (it’s unclear from Gayl Descoursey’s script whether he killed her, drove her to suicide or she died accidentally), and there are dark words between Kevin and Jolene over the need to do it perfectly “this time.” Til Death Do Us Part is a workmanlike Lifetime thriller, not anywhere near as bad as some of the breed but not anywhere near as good as some of them, either; despite a few nice touches in Mann’s direction (like the way the sinister black SUV Kevin drives virtually becomes a character itself) it just sort of rolls on and on, decently filling out its two-hour (less commercials) running time but also not being especially exciting or moving; Lifetime has done these tropes considerably better in other films, though at least Descoursey’s script is credible and doesn’t end in a shoot-out involving half the U.S. military bringing the bad guy to book — instead Our Heroine is subjected to a murderous attack by both her husband and sister-in-law until the skeptical female police detective (Rekha Sharma) who’d told her earlier she didn’t have enough evidence against her husband to make a case (earlier she’d tried to copy a compromising file from his computer onto a flash drive to take to the police, but he’d got home unexpectedly early before she could complete the copy) finally shows up and drops the husband, then arrests Jolene, just in the nick of time to save Our Heroine’s life.