Revolving around an encounter in a single Russian apartment, Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die (Papa, sdokhni ) is an electrifyingly-kinetic black comedy with densely-packed homages to international action cinema and a satirical commentary about Russian society.
The film establishes the basic premise and style with impressive rapidity. Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) stands outside his girlfriend’s apartment, hovering over the doorbell with one hand and gripping a hammer behind his back with the other. A simple slide and pull back on Matvey establishes the smooth and rapid camera movements that will characterise the bloodier action to follow, as well as the intriguing and upbeat signature music that underscores various segments.
Following a prologue of sorts between Matvey and the girlfriend’s father, Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), more characters are introduced via flashbacks to establish their motivations. There are absurdly violent altercations throughout Why Don’t You Just Die, photographed with a vibrant and saturated style in the manner of Amelié. The film’s high levels of stylisation work harmoniously with the dynamic approach, evoking the cartoon hyper-violence of Tom and Jerry or The Ren & Stimpy Show.
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Combining this cartoonish approach with cinematic homages seems outlandishly scattershot on paper. Still, the effect is similar to a pinball ricocheting with abandon around a brightly-lit table. Ennio Morricone-like music plays over stand-offs between characters, and Park Chan-wook and Asian action cinema influences come to the fore through the visual stylisation and framing of shots. Clearly influenced by Quentin Tarantino, Sokolov displays his directorial form without slipping into total chaos.
Amidst the near-anarchy, Why Don’t You Just Die’s script and characters also have some meat on the (violently maimed) bones, as Andrey’s corrupt partner Yevgenich (Michael Gor) functions as an allegory about Russian society. The consequences of the duo’s past actions bring order and bloody chaos to the film, speaking to the snowballing effects of their shady dealings. This commentary — along with the gender dynamics at play as the film develops — are far from the primary concern, but demonstrate that there is much more to Why Don’t You Just Die than just homages and cartoonish violence.
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Why Don’t You Just Die does occasionally get away from itself, mainly in the use of sound. The various dynamic camera movements are rarely executed without an accompanying sound effect, and gradually begin to grate because of the frequency. However, the film settles down often enough that this phonic fanaticism doesn’t distract too severely, particularly when filling in character backstory.
Swinging from ultra-violence to black comedy and philosophical musing, the central performers handle the range of tones without snapping as abruptly as Matvey’s bones. The insane violence and gore won’t sit well with everyone, but Sokolov executes Why Don’t You Just Die? with a cinematic sensibility and confidence.
Jim Ross (@JimGR) is a film critic and film journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Managing Editor and co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, which began as the official review publication of the Cambridge Film Festival and now covers film festivals and independent film worldwide. Jim hosted a fortnightly film radio show on Cambridge 105FM from 2011-2013 and joined the crew of Cinetopia, on Edinburgh community radio EH-FM, in 2019.