Making a room full of dead bodies funny isn’t nearly as easy as you might think. Black comedy, especially the pitch-black kind that involves things like murder and dismemberment, is probably the hardest kind of comedy to get right. Get something wrong and you just come across as mean-spirited — or worse yet, you fail to be funny entirely. But when one gets the formula right, the result is a sure-fire crowd pleaser (especially if your crowd is at Fantasia). A fairly simple narrative that takes place mostly in one cramped apartment, Why Don’t You Just Die! is the kind of film guaranteed to have its audience caught in a constant stream of “ohhhhs” as characters careen headlong through walls, or have CRT TVs collide with their faces at unhealthy speeds. Like a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, the film is a cavalcade of brutal violence and dry wit, but with gory consequences to the former. Crude, messy, and over-the-top in all the right ways, it might just go down as this year’s best Fantasia crowd-pleaser.
The action begins calmly enough, with a young man we later learn is named Matvei standing nervously outside a Moscow apartment, a hammer behind his back and fear in his eyes. Matvei has been sent here by his girlfriend, Olya, on a very particular mission: to kill her abusive father. He is admitted to the apartment, and a tense confrontation erupts into insanity and bloodshed not long after. Olya’s father, Andrei, seems to be a corrupt cop with a bagful of illicit cash — a detail that Olya failed to mention to hapless Matvei. As more players arrive at the apartment and more blood is spilled, we’re informed via flashback what brought everyone into this nightmare, and how the stage was set for a bloodbath of Shakespearean proportions.
Why Don’t You Just Die! is, to put it simply, not a film for the faint of heart. An earth-shattering opening battle sets the tone, with Matvei and Andrei reducing much of the apartment to splinters in their initial confrontation — to say nothing of their increasingly battered bodies. While the action never quite reaches this furious tempo again, the blood continues to flow. Bones are broken, shotguns are fired, and power drills are applied to something other than carpentry. Making violence feel real and weighty is a tricky thing. Part of it is sound, part of it is performance, and the rest is mostly effects and presentation.
Director Kirill Sokolov seems to have a strong grasp on the right formula, however, as audiences are sure to feel the impact of every blow and cut. Even when characters aren’t being flung across the room at improbable angles, it’s nearly impossible not to wince and then immediately burst out laughing at most instances of cartoonish super-violence. Why Don’t You Just Die! manages to walk that fine line almost perfectly, exaggerating things just enough so that you don’t actually feel bad when someone has their day thoroughly ruined by a skull-shattering blow to the head or the sudden appearance of a gushing neck wound. The environments and overall look of the film helps as well, with the brightly colored backdrops almost evoking something like Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
While in many respects the plot merely serves as a framework to hang violence from, it does at least fulfill that purpose quite well. What begins as a simple murder plan escalates wildly as we learn the many true motives of the players involved, as well as the various schemes and double-crosses that brought them all here. This allows the situation in the present to continually unravel, as new levels of treachery are revealed to the audience. And of course, that inevitably leads to yet more bloodshed. The out-of-order narrative and overall style will probably lead to many comparisons to Tarantino or early Guy Ritchie, and that isn’t unfair. With his quick, dynamic editing and camera work, and occasional use of overlaid graphics, there’s a bit of Edgar Wright in there as well. Formally, Why Don’t You Just Die! is a very peppy movie with a lot of activity and a real spring in its step. It moves forward confidently and briskly, and there’s almost no fat on it. Throw in a soundtrack that borrows heavily from Morricone westerns, and you have a film that remains engaging even in its more sedate moments.
Life often presents us with situations so absurd that we can’t help but laugh. Hopefully, very few of us have ever experienced a day like the one in Why Don’t You Just Die!, but the feeling of laughing at something utterly depraved and insane should be a familiar one for most. And make no mistake — this utterly depraved, insane, blood-soaked fever-dream will leave you recoiling and — if you’re so inclined — laughing at the same time.
The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.