Exactly which of Why Don’t You Just Die!’s characters is thinking the title’s statement is never made clear, but it may not matter… at one point or another, most of them want someone dead. And in any case, subtle motivation isn’t the strong suit of writer-director Kirill Sokolov’s blood-soaked and hilarious crime-horror-comedy debut, which has gone straight to home video after skipping a cinema release because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The premise is almost skeletally simple, much of it encapsulated by the opening shots of a lengthy pre-title sequence: Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) stands in the corridor of a Moscow apartment block with his finger poised by a doorbell, his eyes calculating, a hammer in his hand. It’s clear his intention isn’t household maintenance…
Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) lets Matvei into the flat where nearly the entire film’s events take place, and if we were struck by a crypticness when we first saw Matvei (the boy is clearly set on violence, yet seems friendly), there are no mysteries to Andrei: he’s irascible, devious, thuggish, rotten, and a detective. (Why Don’t You Just Die! has a low opinion of Moscow’s police, and its suggestion of pervasive criminality even in respectable society doesn’t need to be stated overtly to be obvious.)
Before long, Andrei and Matvei are trying to kill one another, in the first of many drawn-out fights that only occasionally pause for passages of dialogue or light torture porn. Like those that follow, the first burst of combat is hyper-choreographed and pointedly unrealistic; everything from the lighting to the sounds of objects, the spurting of blood, and the movements of the characters is intentionally exaggerated. A TV thrown into someone’s face is almost a parody of the exploding glass clichés of modern action cinema. There’s slapstick, too, as a character is shot and flies across the room, dropping to the ground only to have a curtain rail collapse on them a moment later. It’s Sam Peckinpah-directed Tom & Jerry cartoon with a streak of physical comedy inspired by silent film.
Indeed, Sokolov’s many influences are joyfully mixed into an astonishingly bloody mess. It’s impossible to watch parts of Why Don’t You Just Die! without being reminded of the Quentin Tarantino or the work of Danny Boyle. Take, for example, a sequence where we see Matvei peering into a plughole, and then see the pipe it leads to, in cutaway. It’s a view nobody, least of all Matvei, could actually have, being a purely cinematic directorial conceit.
Aiding the surreal atmosphere of all this frantic ultra-violence is Viktor Zudin’s production design, which is overwhelmingly red with touches of green and brown. The wallpaper in a bedroom at one point exactly matches the blood on a character’s shirt, and crystal-clear Blu-ray transfer helps give the colours vivid impact too.
The score by Vadim QP and Sergey Solovyov, meanwhile, points up the comedic aspects. Much of the time it comes in witty, self-consciously superficial bursts, while also hinting at less light-hearted themes when it switches to a much more melodic, lush-textured style with a distinct Russian tinge.
Of course, that may in itself be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the traditional Russian penchant for the solemn and the tragic, because there isn’t much solemnity about the attempted murders that form the bulk of Why Don’t You Just Die!. But the music could also be indicating that we’re not to take the film solely as comedic—and, indeed, there are some gentler threads running through it, many of them involving Andrei’s best friend Yevgenich, a pained and sensitive widower who turns up to join the bloodletting.
Andrei’s wife (Elena Shevchenko) brings a touch of melancholy, too, though her inappropriate hostess-politeness in the midst of all the carnage is absurd. Equally farcical (and without the humanity) is Aleksandr Domogarov playing a murderer in a brief flashback, wonderfully identified in the credits simply as “maniac”, though Andrei’s daughter Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde)—-who should be a critical figure in the denouement—falls rather flat as a character who’s neither humorous nor interestingly real. She’s no match for Kuznetsov’s Matvei, who does so much with a quizzical, half-amused expression and so few lines.
It’s probably a mistake, though, to seek too much profound meaning from Why Don’t You Just Die!. Certainly, it’s significant that while Matvei is initially presented as overtly criminal, he turns out to be almost the only character who isn’t corrupt in some way. But perhaps that’s because without someone to root for the film would seem sadistic.
“It was important to me to make sure it wasn’t too deep, sad or depressing,” Sokolov has said. And he succeeds. Why Don’t You Just Die! is unabashedly entertainment; a riot of good humour and sly caricature that’s a jolly romp despite its body count.
Blu-ray Special Edition Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation.
- Original lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks.
- Optional English subtitles (soundtrack in Russian).
- Brand new interview with author and critic Kim Newman, exploring ‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’ within the context of cinematic traditions ranging from the single-location movie to the western. Newman is one of the most knowledgeable writers on genre movies around, and his chatty style makes this an eminently watchable discussion, full of insight.
- Six short making-of films including exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsals and the film set.
- Four short films by Kirill Sokolov: ‘Could Be Worse’, ‘The Outcome’, ‘The Flame’ and the award-winning ‘Sisyphus is Happy’ (Best Director and Gold Frame awards, 2013 Unprecedented Cinema International Festival of Short Film). These fairly long shorts, some running to almost 30-minutes, aren’t directly related to the feature but there are some thematic similarities. Many actors appear in more than one of the short films, providing some unity.
- Theatrical trailer.
- Kirill Sokolov’s complete original storyboard for the film (BD-ROM content).
- Reversible sleeve featuring two choices of artwork.
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Neil Mitchell.
Cast & Crew
writer & director: Kirill Sokolov.
starring: Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Michael Gor, Elena Schevchenko, Igor Grabuzov & Aleksandr Domogarov.