WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE! Interview: Kirill Sokolov On His Violent And Fun Apartment Western
Russian director Kirill Sokolov wears his influences on his sleeve in Why Don’t You Just Die!, a revenge tale in which a boyfriend (Matvey, played by Aleksandr Kuznetsov) will try to fulfill his girlfriend’s (Evgeniya Kregzhde as Olya) wish: kill her father Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), a rough police detective who apparently raped her when she was just a teenager.
A highly stylish movie that riffs on westerns, torture porn, crime and action cinema, and that’s mostly set in the apartment of Olya’s parents (Elena Shevchenko is the mother), Why Don’t You Just Die! constantly mixes tones as well, ranging from gory and exaggerated violence and a dose of horror to a lot of comedy. Not to mention the fact that it uses non-linear narrative to add key characters (like Matvey’s detective partner Yevgenich, played by Mikhail Gorevoy) and to explore the protagonists’ backgrounds and true motivations, before arriving at the quintessential messy climax of the revenge story.
Why Don’t You Just Die! was shown at genre film festivals back in 2019, such as Macabro and Fantastic Fest, and was aiming for a US and UK theatrical release this month, which was obviously canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But not all news is bad because Sokolov’s debut film will be available in the US, on Digital HD, next Monday, April 20th. I interviewed the director via Skype and we ended up talking about spaghetti Westerns, the influence of Quentin Tarantino, his personal connection to the movie, and much more.
ScreenAnarchy: WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE! is a movie with many elements but what was the starting point for you?
Kirill Sokolov: I think it was 2016 and the Me Too movement was very popular, it was very popular even in Russia, which can be strange. A lot of my women friends started to talk, very honest, about their problems and many of them from different families, even from very good families, told that they were abused in their childhood, they were abused by their relatives. It was a really big shock for me, you know?, when somebody close to you tell you such kind of stories, of course you have to think about the revenge, you have bad ideas and all this stuff which you can’t do in your real life but all these emotions I put in the story and I started to write this story about a guy who wants to make a revenge for a father who abused his little girl in the past. Then of course when you write a script you spend a year so the story transformed and new topics and themes came into. That was the starting point, I think.
The first thing of your film that’s very attractive is the style, you know? You realize this is a stylish movie from the beginning. There are a lot of closeups, slow-motion, zooms, the editing, the music... why did you decide to pay so much attention to the style?
Yeah, the thing is, if you take the story by itself, it’s not funny at all, it’s really dark and depressing, it has a lot of social and political context in it, it’s a really dark story. But I really wanted to make a fun movie, I wanted to make such kind of movie that when the audience watch it you’ll get some fun and joy. Only after watching it you’ll think that “oh, it was not [laughs] so funny as we saw it.” That’s why I thought a lot about how to bring the story, to make it more easygoing and more light. That’s how the style appeared.
First of all, of course I’m a huge movie fan and I’ve watched a lot of movies all my life, so for me it’s very natural to take references from different movies from all over the world because, for example, I’m a huge fan of westerns and that’s how western appeared in this movie, western motives. We even called this movie an “apartment western”, and I thought that it’s a great idea because I haven’t seen such kind of movie. That helped because all the movie is located for 90% in one place, in one apartment. This kind of western stylization can help to make not boring to watch one apartment for 90 minutes, it’s always new, it’s always interesting.
Then, for example, I’m a huge fan of South Korean movies so we took some kind of colors from those Korean movies. Of course this funny violence from Tarantino, Sam Raimi and cartoons. All of this stuff, we made especially to make this movie more easygoing, to make this really serious and unfunny topic more light.
Now that you mention this western vibe, I noticed there’s western-like heroic music when the father throws the TV at the beginning…
Yes! Yes! [laughs].
There’s also that final sort of standoff when the two detective friends are facing each other. The way you shot this scene, with the closeups to their faces, reminded me of how Sergio Leone shot THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY…
Yes! It was a direct reference. We shot and I edited right like the final battle [from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly] was made by Sergio Leone.
Specifically I’m a huge fan of spaghetti westerns, first of all. Sergio Leone, one of the greatest directors. The funny thing is that the first movie I remember in my life, the first movie I watched and I really remember how I watched it, was The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Of course it has a great influence on me, replayed in my childhood, I had a hat and I practiced to rotate the gun as fast as possible like Clint Eastwood did. It was a big part of my childhood and of course then when I grew up and started to watch movies as as a filmmaker, Sergio Leone is a huge, huge, I don’t know… he’s kind of the biggest lesson of filmmaking which you can get, you can learn how to make movies just watching Sergio Leone movies.
I like westerns because of the straight conflict, because when you see two guys who are standing in front of each other, they both have guns, they don’t even need to talk to each other… you feel this conflict, it’s very brutal, very straight and very powerful. My story is based on such kind of conflict because each character has the same with other characters: father and his friend, father and Matvey, father and daughter, they all stand in front of each other and they all have the same conflict. So I got the idea that, what if we make this movie as a western? We will follow these conflicts by western laws, only in one apartment [laughs], that’s how this idea appeared and that’s how the idea of using such kind of music appeared. Of course it brings more irony and it’s really straight and really bold and it’s so [laughs], so western that it’s funny, when you see how two dudes fight in the apartment and then you hear this big music with all these instruments, it’s really funny I think. That’s how it appeared.
It’s my feature debut, when I wrote the story I knew that I wasn’t going to have enough money, so I wrote such kind of story that was possible to make mostly based in one location with few extras. How to make such kind of story interesting for the audience? Because nobody wants to see a movie for 90 minutes watching wallpapers or something like that. I started to think how to reopen the space each time from the new point of view, and to make it more interesting and always fresh.
That’s why depending on the scene, we change the genre, not the genre of dramatic or more comedic or action, I mean the genre even in how the camera works or how be edited. So there are pieces like western pieces and we watch, for example, in the room we watch one wall and we don’t see other space, then the other scene it’s a crazy camera which flies around our heroes and we see finally all the space but it’s took from old Hong Kong movies, kung fu movies when you mix the movement of the camera and you feel like all the space around is going crazy, the perspectives have gone wild and you feel yourself a little bit sick because of it. Other scene was built like a modern Danny Boyle movie, very rough cuts and this quick edit. All these different styles were made just to make people feel always fresh with the same location and not tired from it.
Talking about how to shoot a scene, even when the female protagonist is making coffee, you make it epic, slow-motion, closeups… I thought about Edgar Wright, was he also part of your influences?
I really like Edgar Wright but the strange thing is that I read that many people see his influence in this movie, but when I draw the storyboard I always thought about, “OK, this came from Tarantino, this came from Sergio Leone, this came from Chan-wook Park, this came from Danny Boyle.” But I didn’t thought about Edgar Wright, but probably yes because, of course, I have seen his movies.
This small piece when they make the coffee, it was a joke which we saw like a little bit advertising, very beautiful process of making coffee. Then when we go to the wide shot we see that they’re sitting in an absolutely shitty small apartment which looks like a hobo house or something like that, so that was the punch.
The film is extremely violent, the rough style of first fight pretty much reminded me of the opening fight in KILL BILL [the Bride vs. Vernita Green]. Then it also becomes kind of like a gory, horror movie, particularly when the protagonist is in chains and is basically a victim out of a torture porn flick. How difficult was to balance the different tones? Because it’s always funny and entertaining but it also has hyper-violent scenes and gore.
I really wanted to make a movie like a rollercoaster, to make the audience feel very mixed emotions. For example, they see something funny, then they see something really scary, they’re scared, then they laugh again, then they are surprised, then they cry. I wanted to mix genres a little bit, not to keep the one lane: “OK, we are making a comedy, everything must be fun.” No.
The thing is, of course always there is some kind of irony inside of it, there’s some leve of irony, but I think it’s just my sense of humor and how I’m looking to life, but I really tried to make people be always confused, to cheat them and to make the movie as unpredictable as possible. That’s how you can laugh in one scene and then suddenly the next scene you’ll see the torture porn a little bit, and then in the next you’ll see some melodramatic, very lyrical piece of relationship, and then again a very funny and big action scene, and so on and so on… just to always confuse people about what they’re watching [laughs].
You said you had a very limited budget, but for instance the sequence of the crime scene with the detectives, it looks great, it’s gory and, indeed, it has the look of some Asian films. What was the challenge to make this type of scenes on a limited budget?
You can really spend not a lot of money if you plan everything and if you prepare everything really well, so we built everything in one big set, all the interiors you see in the movie are built in one place. For example, the apartment of Olya, we just put all the wallpapers in the same place where we made the main apartment of our heroes. The brothel where you see the crime scene was the same place but we changed the walls, put other doors and all this stuff. When you plan everything, you can spend much less money.
The other way was, we tried to make a really young team because it was my feature debut and I wanted to bring with me a team which will walk in the same mood, with the same vibe, so mostly there were a lot of young people who just wanted to make their start in the movie and they put all their passion into it to make it look great. That’s how really cheap things can look much more expensive and cooler than it is.
Talking about the structure, which is also a very important element, this non-chronological narrative and also the flashbacks of the little stories that explain some of the actions of the present. Why did you decide to work with this peculiar structure?
It’s a kind of funny story because when I finished the first draft, it was a linear story and it was about the revenge of the guy, but there were problems because my main hero, after page 30, he just sat on the sofa, doing nothing until the end of the script. As a screenwriter you understand that you have big problems because the main hero is your fuel, he is the energy which puts the story forward. I started to think about it and I got an idea: what if we change the point of view after 30 pages, like it was made in [Alfred] Hitchcock’s Psycho? What if after his kind of death we change the point of view and make other hero the main hero and we tell his story?
That’s how I made our main hero Yevgenich, the friend of the father, and we follow him the next 30 pages and watch his story. And then we make Olya the main hero. This structure, it’s made from three different short stories: the story about Matvey and his revenge, the story about Yevgenich and his revenge, and the story about Olya, the daughter, and her revenge. But all the three stories, they mix in one place with the same characters and the same situation, that’s how when you watch it it looks like just a non-linear structure, but to say the truth, it’s kind of three different short movies [laughs], made into one big.
When I started to construct it, of course I remembered that Pulp Fiction was made the same way. It was a big help to me, to understand how to deal with such plot.
Exactly! That flashback when we understand why the protagonist will survive after his heart stopped, sort of reminded me of PULP FICTION, the equivalent of that story about the origin of Butch’s watch, which makes what we are about to see more meaningful.
Yes! It’s kind of the question, how to surprise the audience? If you even take some kind of general cliché, for example, we saw thousands of times in the movies how the heroes open the handcuffs, yes? But if I would be in handcuffs, I wouldn’t open it, I don’t know how to open the handcuffs and probably a regular guy don’t know how to open it with a small, tiny piece of metal. That’s how this joke appeared: “OK, I want him to open the handcuffs but we saw it thousands of times in the movies so how can I rebuild and refresh this cliché?”, and that’s how this joke about the two types of handcuffs appeared, the instructions, this way it’s possible, that way impossible and… you’re fucked up.
Or for example, what you talked about, yes, the situation where we see that our hero is dead and suddenly he wakes up. It’s a kind of cliché too because we saw this situation many times in the movies but nobody explains how it’s possible [laughs]. If you explain it, yes, it’s possible because he’s kind of a strange dude who has this strange heart and such situation was in his childhood. This kind of cliché changes, it works differently… this is a big, cool joke, I think.
There are, like you said, three stories, each one with its own hero and plenty of themes. I mean, the story of the detectives, it has subjects like friendship, betrayal and corruption; then the story of the girl, she pretty much suffers of workplace abuse as well.
How was the process to come up with so many themes in a film that, like you said, may appear to be quite simple?
Oh, thank you.
First of all, you rewrite the script all the time and each time you put more and more inside of it. No matter what you’re writing, you’re working on a horror movie or comedy or action or western, if you write your story as honest as possible, you put your real life into it and the kind of reflection to the life outside of you; you live in a political system, you think about “oh these cops, I hate them or I don’t hate them, I feel there are problems with them.”
These thoughts kind of appear in your story by themselves. All these cops that you can see in this movie, the kind of problems which are probably boiling in my head [laughs]. I’m not sure that I really was sitting and thinking about, “OK, now I need to write something a little bit about corruption, and now I need to put something about the abusing.” No! It’s just kind of the context in which you are living and if you’re working in an honest way you accidentally put it into the story [laughs]. I think it’s the only way to make the kind of true stories which will take somebody’s heart.
Finally, in the climax everything comes together, all the characters in that main location. Was that something you knew from the beginning? It’s kind of the classic tale of revenge, we know revenge always gets messy and, in the end of WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!, there’s an absolute mess thanks to this crazy family.
Yes! Yes, of course, but I think, to say the truth, it could be really much worse if Matvey wouldn’t survive, it’s the kind of humanistic idea in this movie, in this whole big piece of shit [laughs]. I don’t know if it is possible to imagine other end to such kind of story.