In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth email exchange. Previously, we delighted in the Irish paranormal rom-com Extra Ordinary, which we both adored.
This time, we’re diving into Kirill Sokolov’s high-stakes Russian whodunit Why Don’t You Just Die?, an ensemble piece made up of equal parts humour and gore.
Synopsis: When corrupt detective Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) foils an amateurish assassination attempt by a mysterious young thug (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), he needs to figure out who set the diabolical plot in motion.
First off: I recommend that readers skip the trailer, as it reveals a little too much for my taste. Second: my god, Joe, this is a new record. We’ve now covered two films in a row that I have absolutely loved! While I do enjoy panning films with you, I’m really digging this Golden Age of He Said/She Said.
I found Why Don’t You Just Die? to be an eye-catching riot from start to finish. Great music, gorgeously vibrant colours, interesting and very dynamic cinematography, pitch perfect performances, and a hearty helping of absurd black comedy made it a blast to watch. The gore was maybe a little gratuitous at some points (I was definitely squirming during a certain scene that took place in a bathtub), but the film is very generous with its levity, which gives it a great balance. The structure and content of the film felt a wee bit Tarantino-esque, but also reminiscent of Trainspotting (1996), which suited me just fine. The social commentary regarding corruption in the Russian police force felt well-handled — not too heavy-handed and well-integrated with the overall plot.
Briefly, the story involves a police detective named Andrey who is visited by a young stranger named Matvey who claims to be his daughter Olya’s (Evgeniya Kregzhde) boyfriend. Through conversation, Andrey becomes suspicious of Matvey (who is armed with a hammer and seems very nervous). A physical altercation ensues, and the rest of the film is devoted to exploring the relationship dynamics and motivations of each of the main characters, including Andrey’s oldest friend and professional partner, Yevgenich (Mikhail Gorevoy).
Admittedly, we don’t get a ton of development for many of the characters — audience surrogate Matvey has scarcely any dialogue and we find out basically nothing about him, apart from his resourcefulness — but the performances pulled me in regardless. And the twisty plot kept surprising me throughout. Why Don’t You Just Die? doesn’t reinvent any wheels, but it doesn’t have to. It hits all of the necessary beats and pulls all of the necessary heartstrings competently.
Joe, what did you think about the cinematography? How did you feel about the inclusion of the child abuse plot point? And what would your assassination weapon-of-choice be, if not a hammer?
V, I’ll echo nearly all of your positives because this film is a delightful blast. I had heard good things from the film festival circuit last year, particularly at Fantasia Festival where the film won the “New Flesh Award” for Best First Feature (a brief moment of silence for the fact that this year’s festival likely won’t happen <sob>).
Technically the film is something of a marvel, isn’t it? The cinematography is delightfully propulsive! Something that I enjoyed is how it is employed throughout the film, not just in the fight sequences, but also in small moments such as when Matvey and Andrey stare each other down and Dmitriy Ulyukaev quickly pushes the camera in on their faces. In those first twelve pre-title card minutes, when the action is at its most vibrant, the cinematography, the sound design and the editing all contribute to an undeniable energy, as though we the audience are riding this same adrenaline boost.
I feel like one thing that Why Don’t You Just Die! confirmed for me is how much of a sucker I am for showy action sequences. Take, for example, the slow-motion TV launching at Matvey’s head — first in a long shot from an omnipotent point of view against the wall and then from behind Matvey’s head as it slowly shatters into crystals across his face. It’s truly a thing of wonder.
You’re right that it’s very Tarantino-esque (which, of course, means it’s actually pulling from a long history of other action and grindhouse films since Tarantino himself is nearly always paying homage to his favourites). If I had to describe the film, especially in these early moments, it’s The Bride vs Vernita Green from Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Bride vs Elle Driver from Kill Bill Vol. 2 and the first car crash scene from Death Proof. Really, these first 12 minutes are almost a perfect action short.
It’s tough, then, when the film pumps the brakes to jump back and forth across multiple timelines to explore how each of these unsavoury characters became embroiled in this nefarious plot. I definitely enjoyed how each new character further complicated the scheme — from Andrey’s cop partner Yevgenich to Olya’s inevitable double cross to poor Andrey’s wife, Natasha (Elena Shevchenko) — until this tiny apartment is covered in blood and bullets. But the awkwardness of the child abuse plot line (which I correctly predicted was a ruse by Olya as soon as Matvey mentioned it) never quite works and the film’s treatment of women winds up feeling too “Madonna/Whore” simplistic for my liking. None of these characters are “likeable” per say since they’re all crooks, killers, or both, but the women in particular come off poorly.
With that said, surveying the weapon options contained in this bloodbath, I do like the hammer (even if it ultimately proves relatively ineffective). Given any option, though? You simply have to go with a chainsaw, don’t you?
V, what would your weapon of choice be? What was your favourite comedic beat? Did you predict the deaths at the offset? And, finally, what do you figure an apartment with that gigantic living room space would retail for here in Toronto?
My weapon of choice would be a crossbow because I think they just look SO badass. Barring that, I think I’d choose a baseball bat? Of the weapons actually featured on-screen, though, it’s shotgun all the way.
I think you nailed it with the Tarantino references. I’d also throw in a soupçon of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones (2009) as well, if only for the heavy helping of absurdity and the prominent use of a drill (still shuddering, by the way). I totally agree regarding the child abuse plotline; while I enjoyed the movie as a whole, it never stopped rubbing me the wrong way. I was willing to forgive it, however, because the film took me on such an irresistible journey and there was a lot going on to distract me from my distaste.
My favourite comedic beat? I honestly don’t even know how to answer that question. There are so many moments, big and small, that had me sputtering with laughter. This film is masterful in finding humour in even the most subtle reaction shots. I didn’t predict every death from the jump, but I loved the way that the story wrapped up — so satisfying! It’s like a Greek tragedy on bath salts!
Oh, and that apartment is $3k minimum in Toronto, and thank you very much for reminding me of our imploding economy.
Why Don’t You Just Die! gets a solid 7.75/10 from me. A thoughtful reworking of the abuse storyline would bump it up to 8, at least. What about you, Joe? Do you mourn the death of any character? What was your favourite kill? And what’s your final score for this psychotic actioner?
Greek tragedy is definitely a great description for this. It’s a morality tale…without the morals, because no one is truly good and nearly everyone has the capacity to stop the madness at any given point. There’s something delightful about a film that pits disreputable (but not despicable!) characters against each other and then lets them hack away at each other mercilessly.
There are so many beats that just filled me with delight. The drill in the bathtub is seriously one of the hardest to watch moments I’ve seen in a while (I turned away! ME!), but every time someone is shot (the rebound off the wall had me absolutely cackling) and, of course, there’s nearly as much head trauma here as Ari Aster’s Midsommar. I will say that my favourite moment – comedic or not – is where a character we thought was dead suddenly gets back up to have a brief chat, all the while profusely dripping blood onto another character and the floor, then falls down dead again.
It’s just so great.
So yeah, it’s a strong recommend for me. I’m thinking 8/10 for me, V. The gore, the laughs, the way the whole film has the zany energy of an early Tarantino film. It’s just a blast of a film and considering it’s nearly all set in a single location, it’s kinda exactly what we’re all feeling right now!