REVIEW: Why Don’t You Just Die! Is a Blood-Soaked Black Comedy with Style to Spare

Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, Sdokhni!) drops viewers right into the middle of the story. A young man, Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), stands outside an apartment working up the nerve to ring the bell. He clutches a hammer behind his back and wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with a Batman logo. Within minutes of the film’s opening, we learn that this is where the parents of Matvei’s girlfriend, Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), live, and Olya has sent him there to kill her father, Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev). But Andrei, a bulldog of a man who’s a detective on the police force, isn’t so easy to take out. Matvei is no match for him, except for the fact that he proves to be improbably, stubbornly good at clinging to life.

While the blood starts flowing early, it takes the remainder of the film to completely understand what’s going on and why, and that’s where the fun of first-time director Kirill Sokolov’s dark comedy lies. While the Russian subtitles may be a barrier to entry for some, this is a movie that will especially be rewarding for fans of a certain kind of ultra-violent, darkly comedic independent film that was popular in the ‘90s. Why Don’t You Just Die! has the propulsion of early Guy Ritchie, the puzzle-box structure of early Tarantino and the over-the-top violence of both as well as movies like Very Bad Things, Desperado or Fargo, while still being very much its own thing.

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Given those comparisons, though, it should come as no surprise that the movie oozes stylish cool, including in its cinematography, set design, costumes and music. The primary colors of the film are an intense green and red, with the red increasingly taking over as the story  and the blood continues to splatter. Meanwhile, although the music varies widely with no central theme to speak of, the soundtrack — which contains everything from hard rock to the classical theme of a traditional Western stand-off — moves the narrative along, setting the mood for different story beats.

Although the film is often graphically gory, it never feels horrific — even as you’re cringing. Plus, the plot is cleverly structured, layering on new information as the movie continues while expertly balancing its pitch-black humor and violence. The bulk of the story takes place in a single apartment, however the movie goes elsewhere to fill in the blanks of the narrative, giving it breathing room and adding further dimension to the proceedings.

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Throughout the film, Matvei remains a cipher who never seems to have the upper hand even when he has the element of surprise on his side. As a result, it’s easy to dismiss him as the kind of thuggish idiot who thinks what he’s doing is romantic, never realizing he’s being used even though he’s completely out of his depth. The other characters all have stronger motivations and more compelling backstories. Yet this works for the film, which doesn’t require Matvei to be much more than a plot device. Kuznetsov and the other actors do an excellent job in their roles, especially Khaev as Andrei who manages to make his character just a tiny bit sympathetic despite being despicable.

While there is the temptation to read into the story and find some deeper metaphor about Russia, ultimately the film is far more interested in entertaining than in imparting messages. As a result, Why Don’t You Just Die! is a fun ride, with visuals and music choices that are every bit as enjoyable to experience as the revelations of its story.

Why Don’t You Just Die!, written and directed by Kirill Sokolov, stars Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Michael Gor and Elena Shevchenko. The movie, in Russian with English subtitles, arrives April 20 on digital HD and April 21 on Blu-ray.

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The first feature of Russian director Kirill Sokolov, Why Don't You Just Die! is a cooly stylish, graphically gory black comedy.

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