DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KIRILL SOKOLOV | STARRING: ALEKSANDR KUZNETSOV, VITALIY KHAEV, EVGENIYA KREGZHDE
It’s not for nothing that this film has been picking up top prizes at small film festivals across the UK, being simultaneously a solid piece of entertainment and a filmmaking tour de force. Why Don’t You Just Die! is a film that tells you exactly what it is right from the exclamation mark of its title. Beginning with an atmosphere of excruciating tension before exploding into gruesome, imaginative, occasionally hilarious and always immaculately timed (and shot) acts of violence, the film starts as it means to go on and refuses to let up.
The film follows Matvei who is visiting the monstrously charismatic corrupt detective Andrei, with clear malign intentions which take little time to erupt, unleashing all the wild chaos that follows. The following interplay between the two, bringing in a small cast of outside figures that brought them to this point, plays out in a series of cutaways, reminiscent of early Tarantino, that lend a surprising level of nuance and depth. In this world, no character is really good, all are morally compromised, although none are entirely evil either.
Aside from these cutaway stories, the whole film is kept within the taught confines of a single tiny Moscow apartment as it slowly becomes more riddled with holes and drenched in blood. So, so much blood. From beginning to end there is brutal and grisly violence, delivered with total control by director Kirill Sokolov who veers the audience between suspense, shock and outright belly laughs (at the screening this reviewer attended, one unexpected blow to the head drew a wave of gasps, followed by a precise musical beat of silence and then an eruption of laughter as the audience processed what it had just seen).
The balance between humour, violence and tragedy could be queasy but Sokolov is an expert high wire artist of a director, always pulling the film back in another direction whenever it seems to be too much one thing. In the led roles, Alexander Kusnetsov as Matvei is a quietly magnetic on-screen presence, doing great work with his eyes when opportunities for dialogue are denied him, and Vitali Khayev as Andrei is far more than a simple baddie, for all his monstrousness (especially the way he eats spaghetti) and worryingly easy to sympathise with.
For a film that lays out what it is and what it’s going to do right from the start, this could be a predictable piece of entertainment but, within that format, it continuously wrong foots your expectations about where characters are coming from or what they might do next, maintaining the tension as the film drives its steady course towards the inevitable and, along the way, showing you just how hard (and occasionally easy) it is for someone to just die.