If you thought the cinematic descriptor “Tarantino-esque” was no longer an applicable one — that the fad to piggyback on the director’s signature curlicue dark-comedy style was long gone — than go to Russia. Because Kirill Sokolov’s WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE feels like a big, gaudy throwback to the post PULP FICTION likes of THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD, THE LAST SUPPER, and — gulp — 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG.
It also feels like a tribute to Jean Pierre Jeunet and Alex De La Iglesia as well. There’s a frenetic energy to Sokolov’s (mostly) one-location comedy of farcical blood-squib violence. It often feels like some Tarantino acolyte directing his own version of AMELIE; there’s a certain whimsy to Sokolov’s film, a sort of refracting of QT’s gore-splashing style through the buttery fanciful style of Jeunet’s Euro fairy tale work. It sort of works, and sort of doesn’t; Sokolov keeps the plot moving forward propulsively even as it all, in the end, fails to add up to much.
As usual in these kinds of films, it all comes down to a satchel of money. Right now that money sits, hidden, in the modest apartment thuggish detective Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) shares with his mousy fragile wife. Right at the outset, Andrei is visited by Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetzov), a handsome young man who claims, when Andrei opens the door, to be the boyfriend of Andrei’s actress daughter Olya (Evgeniya Kreghzde) coming to meet the man. But why exactly is Matvey also holding a hammer behind his back?
It’s clear that Matvey wants to do Andrei harm, but we don’t know exactly why — and the tension between the two men eventually explodes in the kind of balletic fight scene, as both men scramble over both that hammer and a shotgun as they slam and smash each other around that tiny apartment, than would do Jackie Chan proud. It’s the highlight of the movie — and also comes too soon into it. Sokolov never comes up with another scene that quite matches the impressive physical choreography of that one sequence. WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE settles for becoming a sort of seen-it-before hyperviolent “let’s-fuck-each-other-over” comedy of errors, the kind of film where every character orbits around the others in an attempt to be the last one standing.
As Andrei proceeds to torture poor Matvey, who seems to be resistant to the concept of death, even as his body takes Wile E. Coyote levels of abuse, other characters show up at the gore-streaked apartment as flashbacks reveal how every one of these miscreant chess pieces got to where they are now. That kind of looping, non-linear storytelling is also abundant in Tarantino’s work, but WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE, like many of the myriad post-PULP hipster knockoffs, lacks the kind of pungent, loquacious attitude that sets Tarantino apart — it’s yet another film that mistakes tongue-in-cheek cartoon arterial spray for personality.
That’s not to say that the film isn’t watchable. Sokolov isn’t a bad director. He keeps things moving, hopping from bout of spasmodic bloodshed to the next, and the whole thing looks beautiful, shot with a gorgeous sheen by Dmitriy Ulyukaev. Sokolov employs slo-mo, and operatic stingers, and an ongoing joke involving the censoring of the word “f**k” and he directs with a sense of lush style. But as whole, WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE just feels like warmed-over pulp.