There’s often a shorthand used by people when considering films from around the world that’s essentially an unfair generalization. American movies are big and loud, South Korean films are filled with revenge-fueled kicking, German movies are eternally apologetic about the Nazis, and so on. For Russia, the belief is that the films are all slow, gray, and far too long. Examples to the contrary exist, obviously, but the best argument so far against that stereotype is the feature debut of writer/director Kirill Sokolov — the very funny, bloody, and chaotic Why Don’t You Just Die!
Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) rings the bell in a highrise apartment with sweat on his face and a hammer concealed behind his back. He’s planning on killing the man who lives there, his girlfriend Olya’s (Evgeniya Kregzhde) father who sexually abused her as a child. She’s asked this favor, and Matvei cannot refuse. Like most promises requested and made while wearing underwear, though, this one comes with some caveats. Her father Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) is a burly, seasoned detective who smells fear and impending violence as soon as he opens the door. Add in some lies, a power drill, and a hidden stash of cash, and Matvei’s heroic deed is about to take a turn for the worse.
Worse for Matvei and everyone else, but for the absolute better for viewers as Why Don’t You Just Die! is a goddamn delight blending sharply exciting visuals, bloody mayhem, and some deceptively bleak (but still hilarious) humor into a tale of action and reaction. The eponymous “you” could very well be just about any of the characters here as murderous intent and a resistance to an easy death become recurring themes.
Matvei is our guide into the story, but he’s as blind to the facts and upcoming reveals as we are as his good intentions land him in a world of hurt. And it will hurt — the aforementioned drill gets a workout, but so do guns, butcher knives, furniture, and the walls themselves. The bulk of the film unfolds in Andrei’s apartment dressed in darkly bold primary colors, vodka, and sausage, and it will barely be standing by the time the credits roll. Matvei gives as good as he gets, but other players complicate things further including Olya’s mom, Andrei’s detective partner still grieving the death of his own wife, and a pair of beat cops called to investigate a noise complaint.
Sokolov tells his anarchic tale with sharp camera moves, delirious energy, and wry humor, and he’s not against playing with the narrative structure either. Action pauses to jump back in time with a character to reveal past truths which in turn add weight back in the present, and while trauma, treachery, and tragedy set these wheels in motion they’re all flying off the track at the same time. Each new turn suggests another corpse is on the way, but no one goes down easy. Bones crack, guts spill, and blood flows like a busted water main as bodies take excessive amounts of abuse guaranteed to leave viewers cringing and laughing nervously. The brutality is balanced with absurdity to perfection.
As mentioned, the apartment’s set design is exquisite at capturing a bold color design wrapped around breakable furniture, objects, and walls. Everything is at play here and cinematographer Dmitriy Ulyukaev‘s camera floats and zips in and out of the action capturing the mayhem and carnage in all of its glory. Equally playful is the score shifting effortlessly between traditional-sounding music, tension-building tunes, and riffs reminiscent of spaghetti western standoffs. It all makes for a morality tale romp in the vein of Danny Boyle’s excellent Shallow Grave as characters and intentions collide in gloriously unhealthy fashion.
Why Don’t You Just Die! is a violent and bloody affair that will leave you smiling. And to the point way up at the top of the page, it’s fast-moving, colorful as hell, and knows exactly when to wrap itself up… fellow Russian filmmakers take note.