Ancient Greek Playwright and Philosopher Aristophanes summarily believed that each human animal used to be comprised of two linked bodies and two linked souls that the gods themselves struck in half and dispersed throughout the world. He believed that our two halves would wander, subconsciously looking for the other soul that was lost to us. In that search, we meet people and fall under their narcotic charm, but eventually realize that they are not that other half at all. Many times, though they are beautiful souls, the stars do not align and that chemistry eventually fizzles into vapor. However, some are psychic timebombs that sabotage our self-worth and become vampires upon our mental homeostasis. Released in theaters on Friday, September 29, 2017 via Shinehouse Group, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, directed by Hip Hop/R&B luminary Christopher Stokes (You Got Served 2004, Boy Bye 2016) is a suspenseful and soulful tale about the latter.
The film is built around Madison (Annie Ilonzeh: Empire series, All Eyez On Me 2017) and Michael Roland (Stephen Bishop: Moneyball 2011, Battleship 2012), a well-to-do newlywed couple who are on different sides of a discussion about having children. Their interactions grow more and more contentious with Michael decidedly acting as the aggressor. He is an oppressive and shattered man and makes life violently unlivable for Madison, who eventually escapes through a fraudulent act of trickery.
Madison begins a new life in a new city and quickly falls in with her next door neighbor Alex, played by the perma-smooth, ever-effervescent Taye Diggs (House On Haunted Hill 1999, Empire series). Inevitably, Madison’s illusion is stripped away and Michael uncovers her plot, culminating in a violent chain of events that no one escapes from unscathed.
Stokes is likely best known for his discovery and visionary cultivation of such Hip-Hop and R&B acts as Brandy, Immature, Mila J, Jhene Aiko, Omarion, and B2K, so it stands to reason that ‘Til Death Do Us Part is lit and shot like a music video. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The film is saccharine, rhythmic, and has a powerful and relevant message, but at times, Cinematographer–and frequent Stokes collaborator—Joel Layogan chooses angles and lighting schemes that fit more on MTV, BET, or VH1 than the silver screen. There is heavy use of vocal R&B-backed montage which further illustrates that, though he is a relatively accomplished film director, Stokes’ mind and heart will always be in music. In addition, Film Editor Harvey White makes a number of quizzical choices in the cutting together of ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Scenes end with jarring, unnecessary dissolves. Some are unceremoniously interrupted by time-lapse montage that looks like little more than stock footage.
Visual peccadilloes aside, ‘Til Death Do Us Part scores big on performances. Ilonzeh portrays Madison Roland with immense heart and an almost Aphroditic grace. She is the image of a woman who has a tremendous capacity for love, but is stifled and subdued at every turn by the dark cloud cast by her husband. Bishop expertly instills such a seething intimidation into his character, Michael, that it is often hard to breathe, not only for Madison, but the audience as well. The tyrannical behavior exhibited by Michael is near comical in its childishness and selfishness, which speaks to the message of the film; ‘Til Death Do Us Part is punctuated by a textual public service announcement about domestic abuse to hammer the point all the way home. Diggs is also infinitely likeable, as usual, in his portrayal of Alex, the clumsily smitten dreamboat-next-door.
In addition, the music in ‘Til Death Do Us Part is an array of instrumental and vocal R&B that suits the film’s spirit well. The lead couple’s theme is Isley Brothers’ slow jam “For The Love Of You,” that, in the beginning, is the siren song of love and adoration, but like any siren song, warps into something uglier during the film’s climax. The rest of the soundtrack is provided by more of Stokes’ frequent collaborators such as Mila J, Juanita Stokes, and most notably the screen
writer of the film and former member of Immature, Marques Houston. Especially interesting is how smoothly the music changes from non-diegetic to diegetic. For instance, a song plays during a shot transition and when the action resumes, the song continues through a boombox or a car stereo or through headphones. The use of this technique is fairly common in film, but as heavy as this film is with vocal R&B, it stands out pleasantly.
Overall ‘Til Death Do Us Part shines a light on the human faculty for brutishness and savagery toward people we love. Many relationships are subtly or overtly pervaded by abuse and only a tiny fraction of them are ever brought into the open. ‘Til Death Do Us Part, for all its flaws, shows us one particular incidence of abuse that is common enough to be happening right now in your city, possibly even on your street. Aristophanes believed in the concept of a soulmate, but people’s personalities and hidden insecurities make it staggeringly difficult to distinguish.
For its stunning portrayals of mismatched soulmates and its passionate, yet alarming depiction of domestic abuse, CrypticRock gives ‘Til Death Do Us Part 3.5 out of 5 stars.