Arrow Video: Why Don't You Just Die! (2018) - Reviewed

The curious thing about the writing-directing debut of Russian filmmaker Kirill Sokolov’s ultraviolent black comedy of family matters Why Don’t You Just Die! is how strongly it appeals to western filmgoers despite being so firmly rooted in Moscow home life.  Paying homage to everyone from Sergio Leone to Sam Raimi with even a little room left for Wong-Kar Wai of all people, this wild, supercharged slice of splatter mayhem as gallows humor is clearly thinking outside its continent of origin.  Just minutes into this funny/scary ride of a film, the infamous Wilhelm Scream comes on the soundtrack.  For a distinctly Russian set horror comedy, its uniquely western in influences and style.

It’s the story of young Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) whose girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) implores him to murder her father Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev).  Descending upon her parents’ apartment armed with a claw hammer, Matvey quickly finds himself cracking open a far bigger can of worms than he initially bargained for when its revealed her father is in fact a trained cop who won’t go down so easily.  Immediately setting the stage for an extended cat and mouse fight with frequent bloodletting, some truly cringeworthy moments of gross-out comedy-horror and more than a few tricks up its sleeve even I didn’t see coming. 

For a young first-time writer-director, Why Don’t You Just Die! is an impressive, confident debut proudly wearing influences upon its sleeves while demonstrating its own skillful audiovisual techniques both classical and modern.  Against a low budget, the film is visually striking thanks to arresting cinematography by Dmitriy Ulyukaev who films the enclosed spaces of the apartment with a sense of dynamic vastness.  Some of the most colorful sequences in the film occur in tight close-ups for instance. 

Boasting an even grander original soundtrack by Vadim Karpenko and Sergey Solovyov.  Not content to draw just from Ennio Morricone, the score leaves ample room for synth electronic pop with an eclectic mixture of domestic and international tunes.  In one of the film’s many brutal battles drenched in blood and gore, the soundtrack kicks in with the very English chorus “f**k you!” chanted repeatedly.  Pretty clearly the intended listening audiences for this film aren’t exclusive to Russia.

The film wouldn’t work, of course, without the strengths of the two leads, Aleksandr Kuznetsov and Vitaliy Khaev.  With much of the film fought by them, both actors wind up going out on a limb in roles that call for tense physical acting.  You wonder from time to time whether or not either of them sustained an injury filming this.  Kuznetsov, a trained acrobat himself, does an incredible amount of stuntwork while also imbuing the hapless boyfriend caught in the middle with a degree of sympathy, donned in a Batman hoodie with a trusty hammer at his side. 

Khaev as the boorish, formidable, hulking beast of a father is an intimidating physical presence who also manages to be very funny in the ways he tries to warn Matvey ahead of time fighting him won’t end well.  Rounding out the cast is Michael Gorevoy, known to western filmgoers for Die Another Day and Bridge of Spies, as Andrey’s longtime partner, completing the film's international appeal as well as providing a strong contrast to Khaev's character.

Yes the film is unrealistically, outrageously over-the-top and many of the film’s twists and turns border on the incredulous.  It’s a comic book film of sorts with some scenes, brilliantly edited also by director Sokolov, outright parodying the comic book picture’s hyperkinetic visual style.  While a bit overstuffed with the twists and turns thrown at the viewer and somewhat nihilistic in tone, Why Don’t You Just Die! for my money was an engaging international comedy-horror thrill ride and a solid debut from a gifted cinematic newcomer.

--Andrew Kotwicki