Monday, April 20, 2020

Why Don’t You Just Die: Death and Death in Russia

Andrei Gennadievitch is a Russian cop, but he is nothing like Arkady Renko in Martin Cruz Smith’s novels or Inspector Rostnikov from Stuart Kaminsky’s mystery series. Gennadievitch is a big bull of a man, but he is a thoroughly corrupt, shameless excuse for a human being. He is not the sort of person you want to tangle with, but the hapless Matvei will try to kill him anyway. A whole lot of bloody mayhem will ensue in director-screenwriter Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die!, which releases today on VOD (theatrical distribution planned for earlier in the month was cancelled due to the CCP-virus, so forward all your complaints to Xi Jinping in Beijing).

Poor Matvei has been played rather badly by his girlfriend, Olya. Her father is a thug with a badge, but her allegations of sexual abuse were pure fabrication. She wound-up Matvei and sent him off after her father, armed only with a hammer. He wasn’t expecting Olya’s emotionally-deadened mother to be home as well, but she is. Nevertheless, he and Gennadievitch are soon engaged in vicious combat, using as weapons whatever they might find throughout the apartment.

Inevitably, Gennadievitch gains the upper hand, but Matvei keeps bouncing back. The title definitely refers to him. However, more people will get involved in the madness when Gennadievitch invites over his daughter for answers and Yevgenich (the partner he double-crossed) to help clean-up the mess. Instead, the wreckage just gets messier.

Although WDYJD is not explicitly political, it might just be the perfect representation of police work and criminal justice as it is currently practiced in Putin’s Russian tsardom. Corruption begets violence, which begets even more escalating violence. Press materials make the old Tarantino comparison, but watching the film gives us a hunch Sokolov has inhaled plenty of Takashi Miike as well. He has an eye for absurdly disgusting details, but more importantly, there is a dark logic to the way it all unfolds.

Nobody will ever mistake this film for Shakespeare’s Henry cycle, but the cast still impresses, especially as they become increasingly blood-splattered. As Gennadievitch, Vitaliy Khaev resembles a Tor Johnson with acting talent, whereas Aleksandr Kuznetsov could be the hammer-wielding analog of Ewan McGregor in the original Trainspotting. Plus, Evgeniya Kregzhde makes a spectacularly stone-cold femme fatale as Olya.

Aside from a few flashbacks, WDYJD is largely confined to Gennadievitch’s flat, but you could never adapt it for the stage, because the voluminous blood would have the cast sliding into the front row. There is no question a dark sense of humor is required to enjoy the film, but if you have it, Sokolov delivers the laughs in crimson-red spades. It definitely the work of a bold stylist. Highly recommended for cult film fans, Why Don’t You Just Die! releases today (4/20) on VOD platforms, including iTunes.