“We used 200 litres of fake blood”: Inside Russia’s ultra-violent new thriller ‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’

Director Kirill Sokolov has fused Sergio Leone, Park Chan-wook and Martin McDonagh into a blood-soaked gore-fest

What happens when you take the work of Sergio Leone, Park Chan-wook and Martin McDonagh and mash them together to create a blood-soaked, rage-fuelled frenzy? Well, the result would look a little something like Why Don’t You Just Die! – the directorial debut from Russian physicist-turned-filmmaker Kirill Sokolov.

Set almost entirely in the confines of a heinously kitsch Moscow apartment, this aptly-timed film about a young vigilante seeking vengeance on his girlfriend’s dad is Sokolov’s pulpy, punchy ode to the classic Western. Speaking with NME from quarantine in Moscow, Sokolov breaks down his cinematic influences, and explains why his first feature film is blazing a trail through Russian cinema.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

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“The initial idea came to me when #MeToo reached Russia. A lot of my female friends began to tell me stories about their experiences, which gave me this idea to write a story about revenge. But we spent a year writing the script and the subject changed; now the film is more about how people in Russia are really angry and ready to blow up because of our political system and because of the propaganda that people eat all day long from their TV sets. They want to hurt the people around them, even those closest to them. But you can still see an echo of the #MeToo theme within the story.”

The film has a really bleak sense of humour. Who were your comedic references?

“I’m a huge fan of Martin McDonagh – his short film Six Shooter that won an Oscar was a big reason why I started making movies. I think that his Irish sense of humour is very close to Russia’s, and the Russian mentality that everything is so bad that it starts to become fun.”

Why Don't You Just Die
‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’ director Kirill Sokolov. Credit: Arrow Films

What did your journey into filmmaking look like?

“It’s a funny thing; up until making films I was a physicist. But I loved watching movies, so in 2012 I decided that I wanted to leave physics behind and become a filmmaker. I started out making short films – like Martin McDonagh did with Six Shooter. We were short on money so during this time I wasn’t just the director, I was the producer, I fed the actors, I was the stunt guy because we couldn’t afford one. Through this experience you really understand how filmmaking works, so by the time we came to making Why Don’t You Just Die! It all felt a lot easier.”

What was the biggest challenge that came with making your first feature?

“A tough lesson for me was learning that selling and promoting the film was harder than shooting it. We had a lot of problems with selling the film in Russia because it wasn’t this typical Russian movie – we don’t have exploitation movies or bloody movies, everything tends to be more serious and dramatic. Why Don’t You Just Die! is the bloodiest Russian movie of the past 20 years, which is weird to me because I don’t think that it’s too bloody.”

Why Don't You Just Die!
Aleksandr Kuznetsov as Matvey in ‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’. Credit: Arrow Films

How much fake blood was used for the film?

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“200 litres’ worth! But it’s this violence that makes the movie fun. The story inside of it is not fun at all – it’s about really bad people and really dark parts of our soul. The violence makes the film cartoonish and less depressing.”

There’s a very distinct look to the room that the film is set in, what were your aesthetic points of reference?

“It’s a typical Russian apartment, only a little bit weirder. The wallpaper is the same as that belonging to an apartment that I lived in for two years. It’s crazy wallpaper but Russian people really like those kinds of interiors, it makes them look cool and rich. Then I’m a big fan of South Korean movies like Park Chan-wook’s films [like The Handmaiden and Oldboy], and I wanted to use some of the colours used in them. So when Russian people see this film they’ll see a typically Russian apartment but with this feeling of craziness or an illness within it.”

What were you hoping that the score would bring to the film?

“Music was very important to the movie, I spent a lot of time working with the composers because this was a way of making a film that takes place in one apartment interesting to regular people. I wanted it to feel like a Western; there are a lot of Sergio Leone motifs in it and duels that happen. I wanted the film to follow the rules of a Western, but in a modern apartment, and I wanted the music to help create that atmosphere.”

Do you worry how stressed this film might make people watching it in quarantine?

“When I was writing the film I was thinking of ways to make it cheaper which is why it’s in one room for 90% of the movie. But it’s a good premise if you’re locked in your apartment! There’s something about being stuck in quarantine with the people that you don’t like, and how you have to deal with them.”

Why Don't You Just Die
Vitaliy Khaev in ‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’. Credit: Arrow Films

 

How has COVID-19 impacted you?

“We were in the middle of pre-production of our next movie and now everything’s stopped, we’ve had to put a freeze on it. We were hoping to start shooting in the beginning of May, but now we have to move to the summer. Right now, I’m in an apartment that’s 35 square metres in the middle of Moscow with my wife and my dog, writing the script for my next film and procrastinating.”

‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’ is out on Blu-ray and Digital on April 20

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