Movie Review - Til Death Do Us Part

HBO's Big Little Lies recently won quite a few trophies at the 69th Emmy Awards, including for its two stars, Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård. They played an affluent, married couple in a physically abusive relationship. When Kidman won, she talked about the issue of domestic violence between loved ones and how serious and pervasive it was. This movie comments on the same issue. Yet, it's not as nuanced as Big Little Lies. This movie, directed and co-written by Christopher B. Stokes, is pretty black-and-white with painting the woman as the victim and the man as the abuser. We should sympathize with her and hate him. The beauty of Big Little Lies is that it did sympathize with the man a bit and showed how the woman was also culpable and in her own ways abusive. Stokes' film doesn't have nor want that kind of examination or exploration.

For the most part, the movie is a beat-for-beat remake of Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and basically retains the same gender politics from 20 or 30 years ago. It's as if the movie never truly entered the 21st century. Of course, there's nothing wrong with Stokes and his producer and co-writer Marques Houston wanting to do a pulpy thriller, a kind of psychological terror in the vein of similar fare in the 80's and 90's, except this time with an all African-American cast. There appears to be a market for it. A domestic thriller with an all-black cast has been released almost every year in either September or October. The last was When the Bough Breaks (2016), which was a loose remake of Fatal Attraction (1987) and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992).

This one attempts loosely to remake Sleeping with the Enemy, which originally starred Julia Roberts. This time, Annie Ilonzeh (Arrow and General Hospital) is in the Julia Roberts role. Ilonzeh plays Madison Roland, a former lawyer who is now a stay-at-home wife who is trying to get pregnant. In the Patrick Bergin role is Stephen Bishop (Being Mary Jane and Moneyball) who plays Michael Roland, Jr., a very successful lawyer who is about to make partner but who is not in a rush to have a baby. Madison and Michael are married and at the start of the film they're celebrating their first, wedding anniversary.

When Madison learns a secret that Michael has been keeping, it begins a series of fights, which mainly end with Michael hitting or chocking Madison to the ground. Madison's best friend and nurse, Chelsea, played by Robinne Lee (Being Mary Jane and House of Payne), tells her to go to the police, but she refuses. This is where the movie starts to falter because Stokes and Houston don't properly establish why Madison wouldn't go to the police.

The implication is that Michael would do something crazy, but that implication is simply that. Without it being established, it only helps to undermine the rest of the plot. If characters are going to circumvent the law and the legal process, it's best to give them a more concrete reason. In Sleeping with the Enemy, Roberts' character was so afraid of Bergin's psychotic character possibly killing her if she went to the police or tried anything. In Big Little Lies, Kidman's character is a bit of a sadomasochist who partially enjoys the violence. Yet, we get nothing like that here from Ilonzeh's character of Madison. Again, we can imply it, but there's nothing more concrete in the film.

And, it just doesn't apply to Madison, but also Michael. Later, toward the end of the movie, he has an obvious legal channel that he could use, but he doesn't use it. Given that he's a lawyer, presumably, it's odd that he doesn't think to use it. Basically, Madison commits insurance fraud and kidnapping. Michael has every right to go to the police himself or threaten legal action against her unless she did what he said. Yet, he doesn't do that. The movie instead goes to the predictable route of devolving into violence or cheap horror. Unlike When the Bough Breaks or No Good Deed (2014), the violence here really isn't that pulpy or all that thrilling. It's not cathartic or satisfying.

However, Stokes is somehow able to make a toilet seat scary. He's also able to make a song by the Isley Brothers, namely "For the Love of You," scary, or at least a little chilling. Like with Jordan Peele who made a tea cup scary in Get Out, Stokes is able to subvert ordinary objects, but for Stokes, it's more of a rip-off because the toilet seat here is comparable to the bath towels in Sleeping with the Enemy.

Both, Ilonzeh and Bishop give good performances. Bishop nails sexy and creepy perfectly. Taye Diggs (The Best Man and How Stella Got Her Groove Back) co-stars as Alex, a next door neighbor and potential love interest to help Madison get her groove back. Diggs is his usual, super charming, sexy self. He's funny and attractive, and has the Kevin Anderson role from Sleeping with the Enemy, but Anderson's character was a college professor. Here, Diggs teaches elementary school, so it's not as if Stokes or Houston even tried to hide the fact that this film is a remake.

Rated PG-13 for domestic abuse, some sexuality and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.

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