Why Don’t You Just Die! 2020. Directed & Written by Kirill Sokolov.
Starring Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Michael Gor, Elena Shevchenko, Igor Grabuzov, & Aleksandr Domogarov.
White Mirror Film Company
Not Rated / 99 minutes
Comedy / Drama / Horror / Thriller
DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains spoilers
There will be comparisons abound when it comes to Why Don’t You Just Die!, the feature film debut of director-writer Kirill Sokolov. Surely there’ll be talk of Tarantinoesque, there’ll be others who see shades of Guy Ritchie, and more. Make no mistake: this chaotic, darkly comic barn-burner is entirely its own beast. Sokolov uses satire with a splatterpunk level of blood and gore to work a knife into the fragile side of masculinity, which hasn’t changed since the days of the Wild West.
The film begins as we follow Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov). He’s headed to see Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), the father of his girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde). Olya recently told Matvey about sexual abuse she suffered for years at the hands of her father, and she wants him man to go kill dad. The big issue is Matvey may not have the entire story— he may not know anything about this family whatsoever. Once he arrives to see Andrey, he witnesses chaos erupt very, very quick.
Sokolov does great work all around here. The pace never lets up, even as we flash back and forth between significant past events and the current clusterfuck of Matvey’s increasingly dangerous situation. The further we get into the story, the more the film reveals to us its important themes centring around masculinity, misogyny, and revenge. More and more, the film takes on the trappings of the Western genre as an audio-visual callback to the Wild West’s hypermasculine violence which lives on today, lurking in men everywhere, and takes its toll on all genders.
“He keeps growing in me,
like a cancerous tumour poisoning everything.”
Matvey’s initial instinct when Olya tells the story of her abuse is to go off like a chivalric knight from the days of yore and use violence to somehow reclaim her honour. No coincidence he’s donning a Batman shirt. Bruce Wayne is symbolic of the ultimate hypermasculine vigilante who can circumvent the law to get justice. Just like the Caped Crusader is slightly fashy, Matvey’s masculine need to go murder the man who has supposedly assaulted his girlfriend is questionable. Yes, Olya asked him to do it, but by Matvey going off to avenge her he’s still robbing her of agency— it’s the paradox in 95% of rape-revenge movies, in which women are left powerless to help themselves while a man becomes hero by recycling violence back onto the perpetrator.
The markings of a destructive masculinity are all over Why Don’t You Just Die! in an attempt to illustrate exactly how— even after we discover the full truth about Olya’s story— the grave mistakes of men, from fathers to lovers, negatively shape the world around them. Subtle suggestions of masculinity begin with the way Matvey feels intimidated by the big dog at Andey’s place while Andrey is able to shut the dog up immediately. Moments later Andrey makes the suggestion Matvey’s not manly for wanting sugar in coffee, which comes back again later when Andrey’s cop pal Yevgenich (Michael Gor) declines sugar in his tea as the camera lingers. Later during a flashback, Yevgenich breaks down over his sick wife and Andrey more or less tells him to man up, barely able to stomach his friend’s show emotion. Perhaps the most vivid image in the film, apart from all the gory FX, is Andrey covered in blood eating a stick of sausage from the fridge— a stick he uses to mockingly knock his wife on the head, a modern day Fred Flinstone making chauvinistic gestures.
The film hones in on the ways misogyny and the economy come together, or better put the economy of misogyny. When Andrey and Yevgenich plot to get money from a killer’s family they’re letting the death of a sex worker slide. Yevgenich trades off a murdered woman, considered as lesser because of her profession, in the name of helping another. The institutional misogyny of society is at work here through the police, at once producing capital while simultaneously giving free reign to dangerous male individuals like the killer being let free. Andrey then double crosses his friend to take the money for himself, showing us there’s no solidarity among misogynists, either— they are completely morally bankrupt. Olya experiences economic misogyny when her boss wants to trade a handjob for professional help, though she rightly punches him in the face. The icing on the cake that is the economy of misogyny in Why Don’t You Just Die! is the laugh out loud-worthy visual gag of the World’s Best Dad coffee mug, after everything we already know about Andrey’s deep-seated lack of respect for women.
“Evil won’t touch me”
Sokolov’s stylish filmmaking is a cherry on top of a delicious treat, never more evident in the way the Western genre is evoked thematically and audio-visually to further nail home critiques of violent masculinity. The Wild West vibe comes out most when Yevgenich and Andrey have their armed confrontation near the end, including vaguely Western-style music. While Yevgenich’s guts hang from his stomach afterwards he mutters “And so I‘ve lived to see my death” before trying to walk away, as if he were Alan Ladd’s Shane riding off bleeding into the valley. In a way, Sokolov’s film is talking back to the problems of masculinity and misogyny present in the Western genre, using familiar audio-visual hallmarks— “House of the Rising Sun” plays like a frontier anthem at the end, Western guitar notes ring out in Andrey’s living room during a standoff reminiscent of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly‘s finale— and creating elements of a neo-Western without ever explicitly referencing the Western.
The crowning jewel of the film’s commentary on destructive masculinity is the connection between Olya and Shakespeare’s Ophelia from Hamlet. In one scene, we witness Olya rehearsing, reciting lines 140-44 from Act IV Scene V of Hamlet, and it isn’t a throwaway moment. The Shakespearean Ophelia, because of Prince Hamlet, winds up going mad and eventually dies. Similarly, Olya is driven to initiating all the film’s horrific violence by lying about her father, but it is specifically because of her father that she arrives at this irreparable act. The emotional and sometimes physical abuse of Andrey against Olya and her mother is what leads his daughter to take such extreme action, the same way Ophelia’s downfall was precipitated by Hamlet. This adds a distinct level of tragedy to the darkly comic, splattery satire of Sokolov’s story.
Satire of male violence is the main aim of Why Don’t You Just Die! from the start. The film opens with a quote by Irish satirist Flann O’Brien: “He did not live to know who the winner was.” The quote’s language is decidedly male and ‘winner’ denotes a competition, automatically opening the story with ideas of men fighting. And while men fighting is the largest part of the action, the biggest point is how men’s violent attitudes— whether emotionally violent or physically violent— affects all genders, not solely men. Andrey treating the women in his family like trash leads to all the film’s horror. At least Olya, despite her deceitful faults, recognises her broken moral compass, whereas her father is oblivious to what he’s done to himself, his family, his friends, and even people he doesn’t know personally.
Why Don’t You Just Die! is not only heavy with thematic weight, it’s a fantastic thrill ride. It has enough of the red stuff to satisfy horror fans, and pitch black comedy to keep you chuckling, too. You’ll have plenty of fun here without any deep readings. That doesn’t take away from the fact Sokolov, inadvertently or not, has dug fingers into the skull of misogyny in distinct style. Right before the end, the sounds of gunshots fire over all the dead casualties, their corpses like those once upon a time lying in muddy streets outside saloons in the Wild West.
Some things since then, like technology, have changed. Men? Not so much.