‘Why Don’t You Just Die!’ review: ultra-violent Russian comedy thriller is derivative, yet good, gory fun

This darkly comic crime drama owes a clear debt to Quentin Tarantino

Given how many of his signature moves were lifted directly from other filmmakers, it’s a little ironic that the spate of ’90s thrillers that followed Quentin Tarantino’s explosion onto the Hollywood scene are regarded as Tarantino-esque.

Still, darkly comic thrillers like this get made because they’re cheap, and they’re fun. And in Russia, they’ve apparently just caught on. Why Don’t You Just Die! feels as though it belongs back with late 20th Century crime dramas like Killing Zoe, U-Turn and Very Bad Things, yet, thankfully, a hefty dose of black Russian humour gives it a fresh sheen.

We kick off with Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), a kid just out of his teens, standing at the front door of a high rise flat, holding a hammer as he nervously builds up the courage to knock on the door. He eventually tells the occupant, grizzled detective Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), that he’s dating the man’s daughter, and he’d like to talk. What he wants to talk about and why he’s holding the hammer are best left to the film to explain, but things are going to get pretty nasty before anybody gets any answers.

Debutant writer-director Kirill Sokolov’s tale is at its best when set inside the pokey apartment, forcing the filmmaker to be inventive with his camera and script to an extent that a bigger budget and setting perhaps wouldn’t demand.

There are brief sojourns when he breaks away to flashback sequences designed to give backstory for each character and explain the current dilemmas, and Sokolov keeps the interest up with visual flourishes that play out as if Edgar Wright and David Fincher are co-directing a bizarrely violent Marks & Spencer advert.

Along with Danny Boyle and perhaps Sam Peckinpah, it’s the QT influence that is most keenly felt here. Spaghetti Western audio cues are pasted over the soundtrack, which features a score blatantly based on the best of Ennio Morricone. Derivative it may be, but Sokolov has such fun coming up with new ways to abuse his cast of characters, dousing them in blood and dollops of irony in equal measure, that being unoriginal isn’t even a criticism here.

It certainly couldn’t succeed without such a capable cast, most notably Kuznetsov as the relentlessly abused lad caught in the middle of a family row. Both he and Khaev do a sterling job of maintaining the tension, which is a particular feat given that, for much of the film, there isn’t a great deal of dialogue, and the damage inflicted upon them is of cartoon-levels of lunacy.

The leads throw themselves into the hyper-stylised fight sequences amidst the spurting blood with glee, trusting in a director who has derived his work from those who came before, but created something that’s undeniably entertaining. Russia may have been a bit late to the Tarantino party, but Why Don’t You Just Die! is a welcome guest nonetheless.

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