Why Don’t You Just Die!

Andrey throws the TV

The trailer does not lie. Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni in the original Russian) is a camp melodrama awash with blood, gruesomeness, novel ways of hurting people and comic-book cruelty. It’s as if all the horrible things that ever happened to Wile E Coyote were bundled together and then brought to the screen by a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez in one of their Grindhouse jaunts.

The opening shot: a young man with a fantastically broken nose (Aleksandr Kuznetsov, and that’s his real nose) is waiting outside an apartment with a hammer behind his back. The door after much knocking opens. It is a bullet-headed man (Vitaliy Khaev). Andrey, the young man’s girlfriend’s father, looks like a man who eats children for breakfast. Matvey (Kuznetsov) goes in, and the two of them eye each other, each waiting for the moment when the violence will commence.

It comes soon enough. And before the opening credits have even rolled we’ve seen plenty of gratuitous blood-letting, wanton violence and creative destruction – personal fave was Matvey being poleaxed by a big old CRT television, which Andrey has thrown into Matvey’s face while it was still switched on.

After the credits, the power tools come out, limbs are broken and there’s murder most lurid. As for plot, that stays in the background while the violence is afoot, but reasserts itself when it abates – something about Matvey’s girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kreghzhde) insisting that her father, the bullet-headed corrupt cop Andrey, raped her when she was 12. There’s one other principal character, a fellow cop called Evgenich (Mikhail Gorevoy), who turns up just when things look like quietening down, plus Elena Shevchenko as Andrey’s wife, Tasha, who makes one cup of coffee, one cup of tea but otherwise pretty much stands there with her mouth open for the entire film attempting to scream.

Stars Aleksandr Kuznetsov and Vitaliy Khaev
Stars Aleksandr Kuznetsov and Vitaliy Khaev

Around halfway through it looks like the bloodletting has stopped, but it’s only pausing for breath and things soon get going all over again in time for a sensationally gorey finale. Everyone is either bleeding, soaked in blood or dead.

In Grindhouse style, director Kirill Sokolov and his talented DP Dmitriy Ulyukaev bathe everything in gorgeous gel colours – bright reds, greens, oranges, to emphasise the visuals with exaggerated comic-book compositions. Soundtrack composers Vadim QP and Sergey Solovyov also display a talent for gorgeous pastiche. Their reference points include Saint Saëns though they’re mostly in the business of crafting the finest Ennio Morricone deepfakes – mariachi trumpets, choirs, bells, twanging guitar, the full fistful.

This is director Sokolov’s feature debut, after a handful of shorts, and if there is one criticism you could make of Why Don’t You Just Die! it’s that it’s not the most drama-laden of films, it’s a thought experiment. That said, apart from the gore, it does compensate with some moments of laugh-out-loud physical comedy – at one point I laughed harder than I think I have all year (and I’m writing this at the end of December). There are even (for a film like this) some almost subtle bits of visual play, like the cutaway from the insanely bloody crime scene that sets off round two of the film to a kebab shop where doner meat is being sliced from off the pole.

There are probably digital effects in the mix but the whole thing looks like it’s been done physically – god knows what sort of technicians you hire in to get arterial spray this good, but Sokolov and his production team have found them.

And all done with only five main players and on three/four room-sized sets. Way to go, Kirill.

Why Don’t You Just Die! – Watch it/buy it on Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021


First Cow

King-Lu and Cookie out in the woods

 

Kelly Reichardt’s films often operate at two levels. At the surface one story plays out, while somewhere to one side, and often as a comment on the first story, something different is going on. First Cow could really be called First Love, since it’s the story of two men who meet in difficult circumstances and then form a bond that lasts until death.

What it looks like, though, especially at first, is a western, a story of a cook who’s travelling with hard-bitten fur trappers. They’re all out in the forest and there isn’t enough food. And even if there was, the trappers don’t seem to like what the cook’s been serving. There’s a suggestion that they just don’t like him. He’s just too diffident, withdrawn. One evening, after yet another slanging match about the “vittlin’” has died down, Cookie (John Magaro) chances upon a runaway Chinese man in the woods, hungry and desperate not to be given up to a band of Russians looking for him.

Cookie keeps King-Lu (Orion Lee) safe from harm and, later, they deepen their acquaintance at a frontier town where the two of them just happen to meet again.

Reichardt’s image of the frontier is a familiar one, especially if you’ve seen her Meek’s Cutoff. It’s dirty and lawless, but there’s also a keen focus on domestic detail: the wooden buckets, the thick, warm clothing, rough planks, sacking, things made from other, recognisable, things, like the whisk that Cookie uses when he and King-Lu go into the cake business – it’s made of little sticks tied to a bigger stick.

The cakes are the product of King-Lu’s restless drive to make money, somehow, anyhow. But to make these cakes, which look a lot like donuts, Cookie needs milk, and the only source of that is the only cow in this part of the world, and it belongs to the Chief Factor (Toby Jones), whose the conduit through which all good and bad things pass. Round here he is the law.

Which explains the title, it’s the first cow in the area, and brings us to the bit where the trouble starts. The Chief Factor is a cruelly utilitarian man like something out of Dickens – “Any question that cannot be counted is not worth the asking,” he says self-importantly to an Army captain he’s entertaining and attempting to impress (with cakes!).

What the First Factor doesn’t know is that the reason why his cow is not giving as much milk as he expected is because Cookie and King-Lu are sneaking into his field each night and milking it.

 

Toby Jones as the First Factor
Toby Jones as the First Factor

 

A showdown, a reckoning, is obviously going to come, but Reichardt’s interest isn’t so much much in this story as the way of life in this bustling town, where all manner of ethnicities have come to buy, sell or trade.

Thanks to Reichardt’s regular DP, Christopher Blauvelt, it’s a dark world, of densely gloomy interiors, faintly reminiscent of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller and definitely worth watching either on a big screen in a dark cinema, or at least at home with the lights all turned off.

Also barely creeping into view is the deepening relationship between King-Lu and Cookie – who picks a bunch of flowers to brighten up King-Lu’s crude cabin when he’s invited to move in.

Is it a gay love story? Maybe, maybe not. Relationships aren’t always sexual, but as Reichardt’s camera patiently details the minutiae of Cookie and King-Lu’s daily life, we’re watching something tender being put together in front of our eyes.

Since the film opens with the discovery of a pair of skeletons in the forest by a 21st-century mushroom forager, we have strong suspicions where the story of King-Lu and Cookie is going, and once they’ve embarked on the nightly illicit milkings, we’ve got a pretty good idea how they get there.

One of the marvels of this incredibly understated film is that somehow Reichardt builds real tension in a series of late scenes set out in the woods, where Cookie and King-Lu are being pursued (but not particularly urgently) by the First Factor’s men.

And there Reichardt leaves them, in a sudden fade to black, as if to say “this film isn’t about the chase”. And it isn’t.

 

 

First Cow – Watch it/buy it on Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021