When I was tasked with the review of Kirill Sokolov’s film, Why Don’t You Just Die!, I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into. However, I got a pretty good idea once I got into the first twenty minutes of the film, which operates in the live action Looney Tunes Hell World of insurance commercials. Here’s a cliché to get us up to speed… boy meets girlfriend’s disdainful dad, a comically grim turn to keep us watching. Boy brings claw hammer to create wanton PG-13 property damage and murder girlfriend’s disdainful dad… until the company logo fades in and the TBS broadcast day continues. But, the logo never comes. We do find out why the boy brought the hammer – his girlfriend’s disdainful dad molested her as a child – and the disdainful dad ventilates his thigh with a power drill. After that, Why Don’t You Just Die! is never quite the same. It gets even better.
Writer/director Kirill Sokolov’s debut would’ve earned him attention even if he coasted on the opening brawl for another hour. A kick from the floor sends someone halfway up a wall and stuck there. A tube TV implodes on an ignorant head in decadent slow-motion. You’ll even learn a thing or two about lock-picking from a handy cutaway to a mock YouTube tutorial. If Sam Raimi directed Crank, it’d look something like the first third of Why Don’t You Just Die!
But just when the adrenaline spikes and the blood starts flowing, nay, spraying from open wounds, Sokolov eases up off the gas. The brutality takes on weight. Broad stroke characters earn time-rewinding backstories to fill in the blanks for their particular hatred of Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev: The Icebreaker 2016), the bad cop and worse father. These sequences are the only respite these five battered souls get from the cramped confines of his detective salary apartment. But that’s just stealthy setup for what Why Don’t You Just Die! really is – a Terrible People Doing Terrible Things For Money Stuck With Other Terrible People Doing Terrible Things For Money movie.
Reservoir Dogs is the easy comparison, but the sense of humor lands closer to the Raimi-adjacent Coen Brothers. Futile frustration screams quietly in unvarnished sweeps. Andrey’s emotionally brittle partner, Yevgenich (Mikhail Gorevoy: Die Another Day 2002), beats a steering wheel to within an inch of its life and we only see it outside the car, twenty feet away, where his grief-stained rage translates to a little bounce in the shocks and not much else. Andrey can still lean against the passenger door comfortably. Violence, with or without cherry cobbler viscera, isn’t the point, but an accidental punchline. When someone gets shotgun-blasted from one end of the apartment to the other, you wonder if everyone on set knew it was coming. But even then, death or grievous injury provides a fleeting window through the anger, lies, and greed. A moving monologue comes between a character and a blood-wilted photograph, as someone else holds in what’s left of their stomach.
Despite my comparisons, though, Why Don’t You Just Die! rises above the low-budget tendency to mistake a list of inspirations for originality. Sokolov has a rock-steady hand on the throttle of a story that could easily run itself clean off the rails. The hyperactive early goings on – no more evident than a split-second insert of a bone breaking in Mortal Kombat-ready x-ray – never wear out their welcome, and the late-game moments of bitter serenity, when the terrible people get as close to human as they can, never feel like leftovers from a slower crime drama. In place of the uber-hip needledrops of its Tarantino-tinted contemporaries, the soundtrack alternates between sugary Russian pop, pub-ready chant rock, and Western odes that would make Ennio Morricone proud. When the chips finally fall far and wide, weary eyes twitch in slow-motion, those frontier choirs kick in, and the plight of a few amateur criminals in a crumbling flat takes on a near-mythic import. Then, someone takes a bullet and gets lodged in bloody drywall on the other side of the room. Why Don’t You Just Die! runs at many different speeds, all of them well and without turbulence in the transition.
No single ingredient sells its one-of-a-kind buzz like the first line. While the cast is uniformly excellent, like Evgeniya Kregzhde (The Geographer Drank His Globe Away 2013) as Olya, the detective’s daughter who requests his ill-fated demise, the pure-of-heart and poor-of-luck boyfriend, Matvey (Alexsandr Kuznetsov: Acid 2018) walks the finest line. He’s our in, our out, and our only frame of reference for the relative insanity of the proceedings. He makes you wince with every shattered wrist and consider cleaning your bathroom when he’s forced to French kiss a particularly hirsute bathroom sink. As Matvey rings the doorbell to kill a man who deserves it by metrics, he shadow-boxes with his nerves. He’s not cut out for the homicide game and knows it, but he has to learn sometime. As the title slyly warns, Why Don’t You Just Die! hides a sarcastic optimism in its violence. Bad things happen to good people sometimes, but bad people happen to bad people, and that’s good. So rhymes Matvey’s playground oath once the hammer’s in his hand, not long before that hand is cuffed and broken a different way on each finger:
“One-two-three, evil won’t touch me.”