Spent Friday night out with a group to see ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, a new thriller by director Christopher B. Stokes (You Got Served), in collaboration with Producers Shondrella Avery and Marques Houston, Jerome Jones, Jarell Houston, Patrick Johnson Jr., Novus Content and Footage Films. The film provides a brutally honest view of intimate partner violence, striking a delicate balance between the loving spaces of a couple and the dangerous darkness of a troubled abusive husband.
Michael & Madison Roland, had planned to spend the rest of their lives together, until the day Michael's controlling ways turned their perfect marriage into an abusive rollercoaster no woman could survive. With the help of her best friend, Madison decides to get away. After adopting a new identity, she meets Alex Stone and learns to love again. All is well, until Michael discovers Madison's whereabouts, and recreates the nightmare she once lived all over again.
Annie Ilonzeh stars as Madison, the beautiful new bride of Michael (Stephen Bishop). They enjoy a life of envious perfection. Ensconced in an elegant modern manse, with great friends on both sides – it seems life can’t get any better.
Madison has left her job at the request of Michael and now wants a child, to build a family – something she has wanted since she was 5-years-old. This triggers Michael’s previously unseen narcissistic tendencies. We get a glimpse of Michael’s past during chats with his friends. There is trouble there. They know it, but we see it present itself to Madison as Michael does a Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde, as she discovers Michael’s deceptive tactics. The explosive level of abuse once triggered, is not exaggerated behavior based on research by domestic violence researcher and author Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
“Til Death Do Us Part” has similarities to “Gone Girl” - a story about a seemingly perfect marriage that suddenly turns toxic and abusive. The difference rests with tension and culturally how we move in this space of domestic violence. The director, Christopher B. Stokes does an impressive job in his first effort of this magnitude, with introducing edge of the seat ‘what happens next’ tension. In my opinion, “Til Death” unfolds this story in the truest sense of our culture. African Americans rarely see mental health issues as something you seek help for – as Michael is resistant to do and his friend Rob (Malik Yoba) strongly encourages. Also, Stokes gives us nuanced glimpses of both character’s backstories to provide the reasons for their compulsions. While the domestic abuse plot is predictable, the point is to share the story. Many women in abusive situations see themselves in these characters and these types of movies offer a way to provoke them to seek safety and shelter. It rallies them towards saving themselves. While men who may see themselves mirrored in the character, may also choose to seek help for their issues.
Annie Ilonzeh does an impressive job as Madison. Most of her performance is measured, adapting to that of a woman in love with her new husband, but a little excessive when discussing having a baby. Perhaps more backstory on how long the ‘baby’ conversation has been played out would better explain the explosive shift in her anger with her husband on this topic. In other scenes, the undercurrent fear she holds in her body and facial expressions with her husband is spot on. The interplay with Taye Diggs, a neighbor she meets and connects with, gives us a sense of the character’s natural nature and we get a glimpse of what her world would be like had she not married Michael.
Supporting actress Robinne Lee, who plays Madison’s best friend Chelsea, brings an authentic feel of a concerned friend who senses undercurrents in the relationship early on. Her performance brings a great balance between the tension between Madison and Michael. She shines in the scene when confronted by Michael who now has an awareness of what happened and confronts Chelsea innocently. Superb!
Taye Diggs, as always brings his infectious, lightheartedness to a film in need of the balance. His charismatic energy upon meeting the freed Madison gives us a sigh of relief for her. He is normal, fun and a loving father to a bright eyed beautiful little girl, played by newcomer Jacey Sims. They provide the reprieve and solace for Madison. Keep your eye on this bolt of sunshine. Jacey Sims has star potential!
Supporting actor Malik Yoba, who plays Michael’s good friend, seems to have some insight into Michael’s history and issues. His awareness brings assumed soothing to Michael’s dark place. Yoba’s performance as always is flawless. Similar to his performance as friend in ‘Why Did I Get Married’, he brings the sensibilities of a committed, balanced partner and husband. He aims to model the best in a spouse to his friend.
Veteran actor Obba Babatunde, is introduced as Madison’s kept at a distance father. In the one scene with Babatunde, he encompasses the severely ill, hospitalized and dazed father, simply happy to see his ‘princess’ after a long absence.
“Til Death Do Us Part” does a splendid job of depicting life with an abuser and the very real obstacles to starting over, which is one of the key areas of focus for Allstate Purple Purse campaign and events like The Positive Results Corporation’s 2nd Annual Purple Purse Tea Party & Purse Fashion Show Fundraiser. Leaving an abusive partner or spouse is complicated. Victims are often isolated and financially dependent on their abusers and organizations like those above assist with resources and more. The film wraps with stats about domestic violence and a call to action to those who need help.
“’Til Death” provides both visually stimulating and edge of your seat entertainment while tacking a serious topic. It shows us that domestic abuse goes on behind all doors – urban doors, elegant doors, corporate doors and more. The film takes you on what is a real journey for some.
It is definitely a film you don’t want to miss.
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