If you’re tired of hearing me talk about how much Cinepocalypse has slayed this year, well… you’ll have to get over it for a second, because I’m not quite finished.
Though an early screening of the upcoming Annabelle Comes Home was my last official Cinepocalypse screening, there’s an embargo on it and it’s different and I can’t talk about it yet and so I refuse to recognize it as the last chapter of this absolutely perfect festival.
Instead, that honorable distinction is going to go the film I saw just before Annabelle—writer/director Kirill Sokolov’s debut feature Why Don’t You Just Die! And—whew, let me tell you—it fucked so hard.
As aforementioned, Just Die! is Sokolov’s feature-length directorial debut, which is borderline unbelievable based on how precisely absolutely every second of its perfect 95-minute runtime was delivered. It’s not an exaggeration to say that everything about this film was well-imagined with even better execution and follow-through, from its darkly comedic script to its expertly choreographed action and blood-soaked effects.
The film is set largely inside of a single apartment, belonging to brutish retired detective Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev) and his passive, timid wife Tasha (Elena Shevchenko). The story opens when our protagonist, Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), arrives at their door concealing a hammer behind his back. Mattvei is involved with their daughter, Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), and has come to kill Andrey at her request.
Unfortunately for Matvei (but much to the pleasure of us in the audience), Andrey is one suspicious and sadistic motherfucker. Killing him isn’t going to be as simple as Matvei had hoped. After a few minutes-worth of excellently tense shot reverse shot interrogating cloaked in passive aggressive teatime conversation, the film opens up into one of the most well-choreographed, creatively shot horror fight sequences I’ve ever seen.
It sounds oxymoronic, but the camera fluidly moves in the same distinctly stilted way humans in the throes of an all-out smackdown do. It energetically chases them around every corner of their living room stage, framing each hit for maximum impact, and even itself reverberating, recoiling, falling, and bouncing along with the framed characters as they take each hit.
This action-miming shooting style really intensifies the excitement, because it takes away the audience’s ability to passively spectate. Since the camera is your eye into the story, when it actively participates, you’re forced to participate as well. In a movie like this, that immersion was all-consuming. I was not alone in my regular, audible, totally uncontrollable, and delightfully disgusted outbursts.
Though outside of horror, Matthew Vaughn is a good example of a director who can nail this style when he wants to—think the church fight scene from Kingsman: The Secret Service. A horror-adjacent example is last year’s Upgrade, directed by Leigh Whannell. Though he valiantly tried to cop this style for his fight sequences—and succeeded there, at least to some degree—it fell short of this clean of an execution. While there may be a lot of literal falling in Why Don’t You Just Die!, there’s certainly no falling short—especially when it comes to shot composition.
It’s important to call attention to cinematographer Dmitriy Ulyukaev’s really impressive work here, but I believe the clarity of Sokolov’s vision surrounding every aspect of this movie and his diligence in executing it is where the most credit is due. Not only did he write and direct Just Die!, he edited it too. Seriously impressive.
The bloodbath that kicks off in just the first 10 minutes of the film maintains itself more or less unceasingly for the duration, with all of the saturated gratuitousness you’d expect from Tarantino. And yet, for a movie so much about its action, the script also left little to be desired. Focused, dynamic, and specific are all adjectives I would use to describe the plot, which itself was heavily punctuated with perfectly timed moments of dark humor that I can’t help but believe Martin McDonagh would appreciate.
I’m not interested in giving any more of this movie away, specifically because it’s the kind that you have to experience yourself. Suffice it to say that it’s absolutely wonderful and anyone even casually interested in darkly comedic, relentlessly bloody violence (and as far as I’m concerned, that’s everyone) should really check it out.
This isn’t the first time this year—this week, even—that I’ve been totally blown away by a debut. It’s an absolutely magical time for young horror directors all over the world. [And on that note, if anyone has any access to the water they’re drinking, please tweet me @snarlyjones because I’m becoming convinced I’ll never achieve anything close to what these auteurs are nailing on their first try.]
A big ol’ THANK YOU to Cinepocalpyse, not only for again bringing so much of that burgeoning talent here to Chicago, but also for inviting Wolfbane Blooms to be a part of it this year. Hell yeah. Hail Satan. 🤘