Some people are of the opinion that "foreign movies" are boring and incomprehensible, consisting of a pointless storyline leading to a depressing and/or inconclusive finale, filmed with a shaky handheld camera on a shoestring budget. Film aficionados know this to be untrue, and many of us would like to encourage our friends and family members to develop a taste for independent and foreign films. However, I must warn readers of this review: if you are trying to shake a friend out of holding this stereotype, do not under any circumstances show him or her Til Death. It will only serve to confirm all of his worst fears, and you will never get him to watch another foreign film with you, ever.
What is Til Death (original title: Hasta morir) about, and how does it manage to be so lousy? It's a Mexican film that takes a look at the dead-end lives of two young men, "Boy" (Juan Manuel Bernal) and Mauricio (Demián Bichir), recently released from prison with a get-rich scheme that involves kidnapping someone for ransom. However, nothing of substance really happens in the film. We get a look into their dismal lives, which take on the character of a soap opera as Mauricio falls for the attractive Victoria (Verónica Merchant), who seems to exert an influence on him to stop acting like such a thug. But Til Death isn't the kind of film where anyone actually manages to accomplish anything worthwhile, and the story muddles along to its sordid finale.
In different hands, there is a certain amount of irony or social commentary that could potentially have been squeezed from the events of the story. For example, the outstanding film Amores Perros takes on characters in similar social structures and situations, but manages to achieve what eludes Til Death: make their lives part of a larger pattern, and make that pattern meaningful to the audience.
Though online sources list the running time as only 90 minutes, Til Death actually runs an agonizingly long 100 minutes. That's actually only ten minutes longer than expected, but it feels like an eternity.
The video quality of Til Death is slightly better than the audio quality, although this is faint praise indeed. The image is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which appears to be the original framing of the film.
Contrast is barely adequate, and colors are muddy and lackluster; everything from skin tones to the few scraps of green grass in the scenes is generally drab and lifeless. The image is severely affected by bleeding around the edges of bright objects: a white shirt might acquire a bluish border, while a person silhouetted against the sky shows a strong yellow halo. Needless to say, this is unattractive. Amazingly, it is a relatively clean print, without noise or print flaws; where the problems lie, I suspect, is not in the transfer but in the quality of the master print itself.
The DVD includes English subtitles that are burned in.
The Dolby 2.0 Spanish track for Til Death is the worst soundtrack I have heard for a DVD, hands down.
First of all, the dialogue falls into three categories of awful: first, the occasional comprehensible line (no more than a word or two) that sounds terrible and muddled, but can at least be understood as actual words in Spanish; second, the incomprehensible mumble, close enough to the microphone to pick up some noise but too far to actually distinguish distinct words (this is the category that most of the dialogue from the movie falls into); and, last but not least, dialogue that is completely inaudible, indicated by someone outside of microphone range soundlessly mouthing words while the subtitles indicate what they're supposedly saying.
It would be bad enough if the dialogue were just impossible to understand, but Til Death's audio quality actually moves beyond this, into the surrealistically bad. Although the actors' voices are usually muffled to one degree or another, ambient sounds are gratingly loud. In any given scene, it's not uncommon for the dialogue to be too faint to hear, while mysterious thumps and grating noises of shoes or furniture being pushed around are jarringly loud.
On top of it all, the music portion of the track is hideously bad. It's far too loud for the overall volume of the movie, and the sound quality is abysmal. It's tinny and harsh, with mid- and high-range notes having a nasty blaring sound that makes listening to the movie a cringe-inducing experience.
In the purest, most sublime irony, Til Death won an award for "Best Sound." I certainly hope that it sounded better in the screening room than it does on the DVD, because listening to Til Death on DVD was about as pleasant as a dentist's visit.
The DVD of Til Death has no special features. The menu is easy to navigate, but the subtitles cannot be turned off.
If there was anything worthwhile in Til Death, which I have serious doubts about, it failed to transcend the dreadful production values of the film to impress anything on me as a viewer. I suggest staying far away from this film; if you want a quality film that takes a look at Mexico through the eyes of a native filmmaker, go buy Amores Perros instead.