STICKS AND STONES
Matvey has a problem: he’s about to meet Andrey. Andrey is a head taller, built like a brickhouse, and has the disposition of a bear that’s been shot in the ass. He’s also the father to Matvey’s girlfriend, Olya.
Matvey is here to kill Andrey on Olya’s request. Doing what any good boyfriend would do; he grabs his hammer and goes to work. Only Andrey is not just a big, terrifying hunk of testosterone. He’s also a crooked cop with decades of experience in dealing with actual gangsters. It doesn’t take him long to figure out what a wet noodle like Matvey is planning.
What follows can only be described as what would happen if Elmer Fudd actually caught Bugs Bunny and Warner Bros. didn’t care about ratings.
There is absurdist, manic energy to this film unlike anything I’ve seen. What begins as a live-action Looney Tunes quickly evolves into a self-contained celebration of westerns, thrillers, and love letter to Sam Raimi‘s EVIL DEAD. Bones are broken; power drills are utilized in places they’re definitely not supposed to; and people are riddled with bullets. Even an old CRT-television is used as a throwing weapon, which delivers one of the most stunning visuals of the year. Director Kirill Sokolov has an innate understanding of what makes us squirm, and he’s more than happy to twist the screws every step of the way. In one of the funniest scenes in the film, a melodramatic eulogy goes terribly wrong due to how much blood there actually is in the human body.
Even more surprising is just how funny this film is. Even as it dives headfirst into some very dark places the film never fails to elicit a laugh out of the circumstances. It’s never mean, either. Dark comedies that deal with violence usually have a tendency to go for nihilism and cheap laughs at the expense of others, but not here. Instead, Sokolov mines for gags from audience expectations, happily subverting them for his own private jokes. Watch for example as Matvey attempts to weazel his way out of a pair of handcuffs. There is dedication to the joke and it’s the kind of everything-must-go attitude that finds where the line in the sand is – and then proceeds to do a triple-backwards-somersault over it.
Enough can’t be said about the use of space in the film. Most of the story takes place in a drab green twin room apartment with only quick asides elsewhere. Yet it never feels boring. Sokolov knows his genre tropes inside out, and there’s some particularly clever ways that the film wrings out energy by inserting unexpected tonal shifts into the proceedings. Thanks to some crafty editing and inventive asides (a quick detour into childhood antics is a particular highlight), Sokolov’s film feels far bigger than it actually is.
It doesn’t quite carry its energy all the way and there’s a long lull early in the third act that spends a bit too long explaining itself; as if the movie suddenly felt it required a justification. But it’s quickly forgotten as the film regains its posture for a rousing and wholly unexpected finale that not just pays off its ambitious gamble, but makes you want to revisit it immediately again.
WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE! is playing in select cinemas right now. Look for it on blu-ray next year.