GORE IN THE STORE
WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE! *****
Directed by Kirill Sokolov.
Starring Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Michael Gor, Elena Shevchenko, Igor Grabuzov.
Russia 2018 Certificate: 18 99 mins.
Out now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Arrow Video.
Writer-director Kirill Sokolov makes his feature debut with this knockout black comedy, an extended showreel (of the best kind) accommodating exhilarating nods to his cinematic influences (Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, the Coen brothers, et al) while offering a wild, unpredictable ride all of his own. Only leaving its single, increasingly corpse-filled apartment-set to sketch notable background info for key characters, this sets out its stall to crowd-pleasing effect in one of the stand-out pre-titles sequences of recent years.
Twentysomething Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), clad in a Batman hoodie, shows up to meet his girlfriend Olya’s (Evgeniya Kregzhde) dad at his Moscow apartment. The portents are not great: he’s clutching a hammer behind his back and even the neighbour’s rottweiler seems unusually on edge. The dad is Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), a bald, imposing, corrupt cop who swiftly initiates a long of worse-than-expected Dad questioning that includes asking if he enjoys shagging his daughter. Mum is Natasha (Elena Shevchenko), a loyal, downtrodden, tea-making shadow of her former self who will spend the movie bordering on hysteria. The living room confrontation between the two that follows exists in a thrilling netherworld between Chuck Jones era Looney Tunes and Quentin Tarantino, encompassing bristling Morricone-style musical cues, lots of broken furniture and a very heavy old analogue television set. It is wince-inducingly brutal, brilliantly staged, queasily hilarious – and captures the essence of everything that’s to come within a few minutes.
Subsequently, the story backtracks in a how-did-we-end-up-in-such-a-pickle fashion. Olya claims her father raped her when she was twelve and has asked Matvey to kill him. She’s a stage actress in need of money but denies knowing Matvey when confronted by her father. Yevgenich (Michael Gor) is one of Andrey’s cop pals, who is in dire need of cash to pay for his chronically ill wife’s surgical needs – and enters an ill-fated pact involving a rich kid who dismembered his girlfriend with a boxcutter. And Matvey is bound and trapped in Andrey’s bathroom while the brutish bastard decides what to do with him. All of these disparate / desperate characters come together in the apartment and, if it wasn’t already taken as one of the most famous taglines in horror history, the movie’s poster could have proclaimed “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”
Sokolov decorates the carnage with freeze frames, whip pans, rewinds, flashbacks, instructional video interludes, slo-mo blood drops, faux escapes, X-rayed bone breaks and extended one-take beatings. Kuznetsov’s deadpan performance is perfectly pitched as the audience surrogate in an ensemble of greed and end-of-rope selfishness - earning almost instant empathy as he faces off against Khaev’s unforgettably thuggish wife-kicking, sausage-munching glutton Andrey. The early scenes of Matvey suffering numerous blows to the head, power-drill torment (“I made a sieve of his leg”) and a particularly gnarly bit involving a plughole are a grimly funny, gruesome preview of future beatings.
It’s brimming with filmmaking confidence and shot through with inspired gallows humour (“my period started all of a sudden…”). Mortally wounded characters revive in order to deliver one final monologue or enjoy a final resilient contribution to a bloody stand-off, and, just when we think we know where it’s going, Sokolov subverts our expectations once more. The eclectic soundtrack veers from full-blooded homages to Spaghetti westerns and chipper pop music to an oddly haunting end credits rendition of “House of the Rising Sun”. The inevitable final showdown is delivered with enormous arterial-spraying brio and characteristic wit.
On the surface, Sokolov’s calling-card picture is heartless and flippant – intent on reducing its characters to the level of brutalised cartoons so we can relish their gory endurance. There is, however, more than meets the eye thanks to a superb cast and the script’s unexpected depth as the cynical plot unravels. Gor brings quietly poignant dimensions to his role of a desperate husband willing to reprieve a dangerous psychopath for the sake of providing his beloved with something resembling a quality of life. More surprisingly, Elena Shevchenko’s character proves genuinely affecting, despite not receiving a flashback-based backstory and despite spending most of the movie in the background while family members and their associates turn her domestic space into a battleground. The actress subtly captures a haunting portrait of a woman rendered virtually invisible after years of living in the shadow of a cruel, unrepentant bully. Her existence has been reduced to serving hot beverages even in the most comically extreme moments of the wider story. Her fate – part grim slapstick, part tragedy – is the most shocking moment in a film that revels in excess and the worst of humanity as part of its wider, sardonic commentary on contemporary Russia. This movie is even stronger for finding time for Natasha amidst the thrilling, knuckle-chewing carnage.