[What The Fest!? Review]: Emotions and Bloodshed Run High in Russian Comedy WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!

The darkest, most brutal, and bloodiest comedy that I have seen so far this year is the Russian offering Why Don’t You Just Die! (original title: Papa, sdokhni), writer/director Kirill Sokolov’s impressive debut that combines horror film elements with a suspenseful, action-driven revenge plot and crime caper aspects. It’s a genre mash-up that offers plenty of black humor with its over the top violence.

Just Die hero.jpg

Audience allegiances go all over the place as viewers learn more about the main characters, and as layers of secrets are peeled back to expose dark underpinnings of everyone involved. The film opens with twentysomething Matvei (Alexsandr Kuznetsov), hiding a hammer behind his back, trying to get himself invited into the apartment of Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), a bald, intimidating detective. Matvei says that he is the boyfriend of Andrey’s daughter Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), who will meet them there later. To Andrey’s surprise, Olya’s mother Tasha (Elena Schevchenko) is home, making him reluctant to carry out the plans he had for the hammer.

Just Die young stars.jpg

Andrey has a nose for danger, and he sense that Matvei is there for a dangerous reason. Things escalate quickly and gorily, with guns, handcuffs, power drills, television sets, and whatever else is handy. Things get even more complicated when Andrey calls his longtime friend and police partner Evgenie (Mikhail Gorevoy) over for a helping hand.

Sokolov proves himself more than capable of juggling suspense and comedy, as the tension rises to almost unbearable levels but uneasy laughs keeps coming at a rapid pace, as well. The savagery and amount of bloodshed reaches cartoonish levels. Humans in cinema, living or dead, haven’t lost this much of the red stuff since last year’s French thriller Revenge. The plot thickens with double-crosses, red herrings, and even a healthy dollop of pathos, and Sokolov holds it all together from nail-biting beginning to satisfying climax.

The ensemble cast is superb, with Kuznetsov and Kaev playing off each other beautifully. Kregzhde is terrific as the mysterious Olya, and Gorevoy is outstanding as perhaps the most sympathetic character in Why Don’t You Just Die!. The musical soundtrack is a satisfying, wide variety of songs, including “House of the Rising Sun.” Dimitriy Ulyukave’s cinematography is sharp, and Sokolov’s editing is tight and crisp.

Though Sokolov’s tips his hat to his cinematic inspirations at times, Why Don’t You Just Die! is a wholly original, unique slice of Russian cinema, and it is a fine calling card for a director who should have a bright future. Currently on the film festival circuit, the film rates as a must-see in my opinion.

Why Don’t You Just Die! screened at What the Fest!?, which ran from March 20–24 at New York City’s IFC Center.