(Original title: PAPA, SDOKHNI)
Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) turns up at an apartment in a Russian tenement block clutching a hammer behind his back, fidgeting on the spot and sweating at his brow. He is the boyfriend of young Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), and as the apartment's front door opens he's confronted by her father, the imposing Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev). As Matvei is about to attack his targeted victim, he's disturbed by a woman and her rowdy Rottweiler returning home to the apartment next door.
Oblivious to the threat his guest poses, Andrei lets Matvei in to the apartment so that he can wait for Olya's arrival. Big bald grump Andrei returns to his dinner at the table and Matvei prepares once again to strike, at which point Olya's mother Tasha (Elena Shevchenko) appears from the kitchen and kindly invites him to take a seat. The hammer remains hidden.
Andrei is a former police detective and quizzes Matvei at length when he eventually spies the hammer. Matvei claims it's in transit to being returned to a friend. This causes a palpable tension between the pair, one that prompts Andrei to usher Tasha into the bedroom when he realises something is amiss with this young man.
With Tasha out of the way, this gives Andrei and Matvei the run of the spacious living room area to make their intentions to one another apparent. An insanely violent fight ensues, making full use of said space.
At this juncture, we take a departure from the present tense and the film segues into a chapter title: "Matvei". In this glimpse of character back-story, we meet Matvei and Olya in his own run-down apartment. Initially unreceptive to his sexual advances in the bedroom, she becomes more tactile in the kitchen before asking him to kill her father; she alleges he raped her when she was twelve years old.
Then we're back in the present, where we find Matvei now handcuffed to a pipe in Andrei's bathroom. While Andrei and Tasha try to tidy their trashed living room (which includes hiding evidence of a huge stash of ill-gotten cash) Matvei makes an ingenious but ultimate thwarted attempt at escaping his confines.
As the money is stuffed into a bag and placed in a cabinet in the living room, Andrei returns to bathroom and interrogates his prisoner. Not convinced that Matvei is his daughter's girlfriend, he wants to know who sent him there to kill Andrei. After all, a tough Russian police detective doesn't do his job effectively without making an enemy or two along the way. Matvei refuses to talk, so Andrei takes drastic measures by employing a power drill in a most sadistic fashion. He gets to the truth.
Andrei protests his innocence over his daughter's allegations to both Matvei and Tasha, even when Matvei eventually frees himself from his cuffs and turns a shotgun on the pair. He orders Andrei to call Olya and bring her to the apartment to clear matters up. However, on the phone to her dad she insists she's never met anyone called Matvei.
The plot thickens. And congeals even more so when Andrei's former colleague Evgenich (Michael Gor) turns up to help clean up the mess that's been made earlier in the evening. As a flashback to his own back-story illustrates, he will also have a score of his own to settle with Andrei as the night progresses ...
Films with exclamations in their title are usually ones to avoid in my book, unless it's AIRPLANE! So I expected very little from this low-budget Russian endeavour despite positive feedback from its festival screenings and the fact that Arrow have picked it up for domestic distribution.
How wrong I was.
WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE! (the original Russian title translates as DAD, DIE) is not only a riotous thriller loaded with splashes of dark humour which hit their mark each time with pin-point precision, it's also an incredibly well-made calling-card from writer-director Kirill Sokolov.
It's beautifully shot for a start, despite the set designs and costumes persuasively working towards creating an impoverished environment that these characters inhabit. Edited in ruthlessly efficient, crisp style, there's no flab here: the story hits the ground running and soon escalates into scene after scene of frequently jaw-dropping, inventive and expertly choreographed violence. The opening fight scene is as amusing as it is bone-crunching; while cartoonish and over-the-top, it's also disconcertingly convincing. At times I felt like these actors must be professional wrestlers or something, such was their talent for getting thrown all over the place and battered to fuck without (hopefully) hurting themselves for real. And the level of gore in this film at times (all of the practical FX variety) is enough to rival that of most modern horror films.
Sokolov's script feels authentic to each character while his screenplay drip-feeds us information in non-linear style (the chapters introducing us to different characters and explaining a little of their backgrounds recalled Tarantino but never in a contrived way). Consequently, our perception of events is constantly changing, as are our notions of where our sympathies lie. Even the mighty, miserable Andrei becomes strangely relatable at a certain juncture.
Speaking of Tarantino, there are a couple of flourishes which also bring his style to mind such as one enjoyable excursion into an explanatory skit detailing how you get yourself out of a pair of handcuffs. If this sounds overly derivative, it's not, the production design preserves a very distinctive Russian flavour to proceedings which lends the film an identity very much of its own. It's a comedy of manners, to a certain extent.
Tasha's nervousness around her husband and her eagerness to keep things just-so for his benefit are a subtle indication that he is a man to be wary of. It's the subtler points that really help WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE! Impress beyond its accomplished choreography and editing, and mental levels of carnage. Like the little touches such as a fleeting glimpse of Andrei's "World's Best Dad" mug, and the light music being played during the film's most macabre scenes. More than one Mexican-style stand-off takes place, and these are emphasised further by occasional Western-esque licks on the soundtrack.
The cast are all perfectly cast, from the edgy Matvei to the cowering Tasha, the thuggish Andrei and beyond; all are at equal parts suspect, loathsome and sympathetic. There's a very human core to this drama beneath all the madness.
Each scene is directed to within an inch of its life, but never to the detriment of the unfurling action. Sokolov has painstakingly deliberated over every set-piece: if you're going to film a bathtub torture sequence, how can you do it in a manner that is genuinely different to any that have come before it? Much like in the early works of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, Sokolov uses his ingenuity over his lack of resources and finds such a way.
Providing its thrills at an agreeably breakneck pace largely in a single setting and with a small cast, WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE! Could almost be described as a Russian take on a Coen Brothers film with lots of added gore and twists.
I loved it.
The film is receiving a UK blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Video. We were sent an online screener link for review purposes.
Uncut at 94 minutes and 24 seconds in length, the film was presented uncut and in HD. It looked superb: colourful, bright, sharp and detailed. The Russian stereo audio was solid too, as were the easily readable English subtitles.
Although unavailable for review, the blu-ray is set to include a plethora of extras: behind the scenes footage; an interview with critic Kim Newman; four short films by Sokolov; the film's original trailer; BD-ROM storyboard content; reversible cover art; and (in the first pressing) a collectors' booklet.
Don't miss out, get on to this modern classic now!
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|