❉ Writer/director Kirill Sokolov’s blood-soaked feature debut transforms a sitting room into an arena of death.
A young man waits nervously outside an apartment holding a hammer, flexing and shadowboxing. It makes for an interesting and arresting opening that precedes a blood-soaked narrative that manages to turn a living room into a battleground of carnage, betrayal, secrets, lies and ball punching.
Why the young man, Matvei, played by Aleksandr Kuznetsov, has come to this particular apartment would give too much of the slight plot away. What can be said however is that the door is answered by his girlfriend’s father Andrey, Vitaliy Khaev. What follows is an intergenerational battle royale that showcases the impressive skills of its debut writer and director Kirill Sokolov.
As funny as it is unpredictable, Why Don’t You Just Die! quickly proves itself as the most exciting Russian genre film since Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch. Its premise of young vs old provides much allegorical fodder; loss of faith and trust in a corrupt state being one particularly rich seam. It also manages to throw in a number of twists and turns that prevent it from turning into an exhausting, over-extended fight scene.
A number of viewers may find themselves exhausted however at the level of blood that is splashed and strewn about with sadistic glee. This is possibly the bloodiest film to take place in a single location since Sam Raimi sent Bruce Campbell into a cabin in the woods back in the early eighties. Like Raimi, Sokolov throws, whips and zooms his camera about like a wrestling opponent. The double act of Kuznetsov and Khaev certainly find themselves drenched in as much blood as Bruce Campbell ever did.
Its use of flashbacks introducing other characters, including crooked cops, bloodthirsty murderers and skeevy barmen, elevates its unpredictable nature. Such characters and constant bloodshed could come across as oppressive and joyless in less skilled hands but Sokolov balances it out perfectly with its black humour. “I made a sieve of his leg!” one character remarks matter of factly after one particular eye opening act of carnage literally paints the walls red.
The film is further elevated by its Spaghetti Western inflected soundtrack. Actually sampling Morricone at one point, as well as that evocative gunshot effect to punctuate a certain point, the emotional stakes are raised, turning a sitting room into an arena of death as loyalties are exposed as lies. The work of Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance trilogy is also invoked. The colour scheme has differing tinges of green throughout to complement the shades of red blood as it splashes against intricately patterned wallpaper, whilst the soundtrack then evolves to recall the orchestral work of director Park’s regular composer Yeong-wook Jo.
That Sokolov manages to take all these influences and turn out something entirely in his own style marks this out as an exciting calling card. Style can only go so far however. Its cultural identity, and stinging critique of it, further elevate proceedings. It is an impressive feat that such commentary can be made under that country’s current despotic regime. Sokolov will no doubt gain an international profile of this so best see this now before its eventual American remake is announced.
❉ ‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’ debuts on Blu-Ray & Digital HD, 20 April, and on the Arrow Video Channel, 4 May. 100 min, Russia, 2018/Color, HD & DCP.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was four. Since then he has become a regular contributor to We Are Cult and FrightFest writing about genre film in all its wonderful strange forms and buys too much physical media whilst living in Glasgow. Iain can be found on twitter @irmacleod77