At a time when many are getting to grips with the idea of spending prolonged time in small spaces, we can all at least be glad that we aren’t sharing our flats with the characters from Why Don’t You Just Die! This Russian export from director Kirill Sokolov makes its onscreen violence compelling and more than a little stylish, but it’s not all flashy tricks and shocking visuals.
The film opens with a nervous youth clutching a hammer outside of a Russian apartment building. He is allowed entry to the flat by an ex-detective, the bullish Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), who we learn is the father of the youth’s girlfriend. After a tense exchange, the film settles into what it does best – providing astonishing displays of balletic ultraviolence.
As the plot progresses, we are introduced to additional characters; the cheated cop, the vengeful daughter and the meek wife. All have their own backstory, and their own means of escalating the situation and providing additional brutality.
For the most part, the action is confined to the small apartment, but we are allowed excursions outside to explore the backgrounds of the characters. Their universe is a pulpy, noirish backdrop for murder and corruption. The characters are not one-dimensional, but we get the sense that they are shaped by the cruelty of the world that they inhabit. The gallows humour that the film displays throughout is bleakly appropriate.
However, it’s not a film without heart. The violence is extreme, but each blow is underpinned with some kind of intense feeling. The plot is rich with betrayal, cruelty and vengeance, and the stakes are as emotional as they are deadly. The energy dips a little after the explosive opening, but it never drags. The gritty thrills come thick and fast.
For a film with such a nuts-and-bolts premise, Why Don’t You Just Die! is gorgeously shot. Each frame is full of rich colour and textures, similar in style to the spectacular Cinéma du Look films of Luc Besson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This striking visual sensibility never undermines or overwhelms the action, but only heightens it. The small apartment feels like a tactile physical space, which only adds weight to scenes in which characters are hurled into (or through) the walls.
The editing is masterful too. The fast cuts and camera movements are as tightly choreographed as the action itself. Particularly wince-inducing is a scene in which a character’s hand breaks. The cuts to x-rays as his bones fracture and split, like in a 70s Sonny Chiba film, are a shock to the system.
For a film with such a bleak premise, Why Don’t You Just Die! is full of humour – it’s just streaked with gore. Many of the most violent action scenes owe more to Buster Keaton than they do to Steven Seagal, and each of the actors gives an astonishing physical performance. Particularly of note is Aleksandr Kuznetsov, whose character probably takes the most punishment. Barely a scene goes by where he isn’t called on to perform some feat of endurance, and his minimal dialogue means that he has to do most of his communication with his body. It’s a challenging role, but a challenge that he more than rises to.
For those whose black sense of humour allows them to giggle even as they shudder, Why Don’t you Just Die! is a riotous experience. It’s an extremely impressive first foray into feature-length production for director Kirill Sokolov, from whom we look forward to more good work in the future.
Why Don’t You Just Die! is available on Blu Ray & Digital HD from the 20th of April, and on the Arrow Video Channel on the 4th of May.