Gore-Flecked 'Why Don't You Just Die!' Is Brutally Fun

Apr 9, 2020

It's never a good portent when a stranger arrives at your door with a hammer hidden behind his back. That's how Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) greets his girlfriend's father, Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev), at the opening of Why Don't You Just Die! Matvei's intentions are pretty evident, but would have been even more obvious if this exuberant black comedy's English title were a literal translation of the Russian one: Papa, Die!

The film was written, directed, and edited by Kirill Sokolov, a St. Petersburg-bred B-movie prodigy with a knack for visual storytelling. The tale turns violent immediately after a brief interlude in which the two men size each other up. Beefy, shaved-headed Andrei is a corrupt cop outfitted with a shotgun and no scruples. Would-be avenging angel Matvei is scrawnier and less experienced with hand-to-hand combat. But the younger man turns out to have a superpower: This live-action Wile E. Coyote won't die, even when bloodied with an arsenal of weapons both commonplace and extraordinary.

The cartoonish brutality of the opening sequence can't be sustained with just three characters. (The third, Andrei's wife Natasha (Elena Shevchenko), is principally a spectator.) But the prologue does reveal many of Sokolov's stylistic enthusiasms, including slo-mo, close-ups, playful asides, garish colors, and jaunty Ennio Morricone-style music. As reminiscent of Japan's Sion Sono as of Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino, Why Don't You Just Die! drips almost as much style as plasma.

While the movie relishes mayhem for its own sake, it also employs disaster to lampoon the flimsiness of contemporary Russia: When Andrei hurls Matvei at a wall, his young assailant goes right through. Naturally, Sokolov uses the jagged hole to frame shots throughout the rest of the movie.

Most of the action transpires in Andrei and Natasha's one-bedroom apartment, whose population eventually swells to five. But the director uses flashbacks to fill in a whole lot of backstory — and to vary the pace of a movie that would otherwise consist mostly of gory slapstick.

The first dip into the past shows Matvei with Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), who emotionally offers the reason why her beau should kill her dad. Don't believe her. Olya is Andrei's daughter in spirit as well as ancestry. She's also an aspiring actress who, in another flashback, is shown on stage in an avant garde production. (She's playing, of course, a death scene.)

Back in the flat, Andrei appraises the situation while Matvei is, uh, indisposed. He calls Olya — again, don't trust what she says — and his partner, Evgenie (Mikhail Gorevoy). Another flashback reveals that Andrei and Evgenie were involved in a sex-murder case that's even more bloodily disgusting than what just happened in the cop's apartment.

One result of that investigation is a satchel, full of money, that Andrei has previously managed to keep hidden. The bills are dollars, not rubles. That's to be expected in a movie that presents the U.S. as some sort of promised land for Russian winners and losers alike: One smirking spoiled brat proudly wears a warm-up jacket festooned with the word "Russia" — in English.

There are many more complications in a plot that, if less than dazzling, is more than clever enough to justify the chaos Sokolov gleefully choreographs. Yet Why Don't You Just Die! isn't just a skillful play for international midnight-movie notoriety. It's also a film packed with rueful lessons. Some of them are small — how to pick handcuffs, how to handle a sexually predatory boss — but one is big: Don't be born Russian.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.