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Irresistible force meets immovable object in writer-director Kirill Sokolov’s debut feature Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni), a splatterpunk action comedy drenched in gleefully dark Russian humor. Largely set inside a single apartment, this bloodthirsty carnival of carnage was one of the more unorthodox premieres last month at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Its genre-friendly elements should ensure further festival bookings, and potential interest from cult movie distributors. As a showcase for 29-year-old Sokolov’s eye-catching skills with limited resources, it could open doors internationally.
As its attention-grabbing title and lurid tone make clear from the first frame, Why Don’t You Just Die! is not exactly a vintage Russian rumination on crime and punishment. But it is smarter and wittier than its pulpy setup initially seems to suggest, keeping viewers on their toes with ironic asides, shock reversals and tricky non-linear plot swerves. There are echoes of early Quentin Tarantino, Danny Boyle, Sion Sono and even Sam Peckinpah mixed in among the cheerfully nihilistic chaos. Sokolov also invokes Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns in his tightly shot gunfight scenes, reinforced by an eclectic score from Vadim QP and Sergey Solovyov, which repeatedly detours into mock-heroic Ennio Morricone pastiche.
The film’s antihero is jittery twentysomething Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), who arrives at a Moscow family apartment armed with a hammer and murderous intent. His target is thuggish detective Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev), the father of his girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde). But seasoned bruiser Andrei can smell danger a mile off, and his wary welcome soon escalates into a full-scale battle involving power drills, handcuffs and shotguns. Only later does it transpire that Olya has enlisted Matvei to kill Andrei in apparent revenge for a childhood scarred by abuse.
In the thick of the fight, Sokolov cuts to triple flashbacks that fill in the backstories on Matvei, Olya and Andrei’s police partner Evgenie (Mikhail Gorevoy). The showdown in the apartment is rooted in an earlier blackmail pact between the crooked cops, which allowed a deranged sex killer to escape jail but ultimately ended in treachery and tragedy. As the tangled layers of triple-cross and skulduggery come to light, friends and family turn against each other and the mounting body count becomes a bloodbath.
Building a crazed Looney Tunes mood with cartoon-bright colors, kinetic camera moves and zippy fast cuts, Sokolov keeps ramping up the savagery to absurdly excessive levels, his protagonists somehow struggling on despite skull-cracking, stomach-bursting injuries. Gore levels are high, but the overall effect is more sicko comedy than torture porn. And while bad things happen to good people in this bleakly amoral pocket universe, there is also a hint of rough justice as the most venal characters eventually reap what they sow.
Why Don’t You Just Die! can and will be read as a caustic commentary on Putin’s rotten Russia, but it is more unapologetic gross-out thrill ride than profound sermon on the human condition. Leaving nothing to the imagination, the film’s original title translates as Daddy, Die!, which is subtle as a shotgun blast to the face. But on this evidence, Sokolov is a more arch and artful filmmaker than he may first appear. A talent to watch.
Production company: White Mirror Film Company
Cast: Vitaliy Khaev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy, Elena Shevchenko
Director-screenwriter-editor: Kirill Sokolov
Producer: Sofiko Kiknavelidze
Cinematographer: Dmitriy Ulyukaev
Production designer: Viktor Zudin
Music: Vadim QP, Sergey Solovyov
Venue: Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
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