Families at war fuel Kirill Sokolov’s bloody follow-up to Why Don’t You Just Die?
Dir-scr: Kirill Sokolov. Russia. 2021. 98 mins
Kirill Sokolov’s follow-up to his arresting debut, the ultra-violent black comedy, Why Don’t You Just Die?, No Looking Back is a similarly blood-stained and visceral romp which takes an axe to the concept of harmonious domestic relations. A chase movie involving three generations of women from one family, with several hapless men dragged along for the ride, the film takes a singularly cynical view of the blood-ties of motherhood. Yet it doesn’t quite match the ferociously over-the-top intensity of Sokolov’s debut. It’s an unexpected criticism to level at a film in which someone gets their eye gouged out with a shard of glass from a broken jam jar, but, at times, No Looking Back is not quite violent enough.
There’s a stylistic verve to Sokolov’s approach
Why Don’t You Just Die, with its predominantly single location inside a Moscow apartment which is systematically destroyed by its feuding inhabitants, connected as a streaming release with audiences who were climbing the walls of their own homes during the first Covid-19 lockdown. No Looking Back is similarly suited to a VOD release; energetic in its pacing and cheerfully lurid in it’s aesthetic, it has a cartoonish cruelty which should appeal to both genre audiences and programmers of midnight strands at further festivals. Yet its story– of a recently released ex-convict battling with her mother over who gets to raise her precociously foul-mouthed daughter – lacks the punchy immediacy of Sokolov’s debut.
Olga (Victoria Korotkova) is bruised and battered even before being released from prison, where she just has finished a sentence for stabbing her ex-boyfriend in the eye. A mother-son prison guard duo has dealt out four years of special treatment, and the fact that Olga is about to be released is not about to prevent one final beating. A subplot involving the prison guard’s own family is one of the less successful story elements. The point, presumably, is that Russia is full of self-perpetuating cycles of family violence on both sides of the law but, in practice, the segments involving this mother and son just serve to slow down the rest of the film.
The violence only increases when Olga visits her mother Vera (Anna Mikhalkova), in order to take custody of her 10-year-old daughter Masha (Sofia Krugova). Vera is not about to hand over the child, a point she emphasises by stabbing her daughter in the chest. With Olga and Masha on the run, Vera calls on the help of Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko), the ex-boyfriend who is now lacking an eye but still nursing the hope of reconciliation with Olga.
There’s a stylistic verve to Sokolov’s approach. The super-saturated colour palette emphasises crimson reds (obviously) and throbbing yellow-greens, but every colour is turned up, giving a hyper-real almost fairytale quality which is emphasised by the whirling, waltzing discord of the score. The sound design, although largely composed of people hitting each other, is similarly showy. But for all the filmmaking flexing, the story doesn’t quite sustain its momentum – it’s almost as though the energy drains out along with the blood of the key characters.
Production companies: Metrafilms
International sales: M-Appeal firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Artem Vasilyev, Igor Mishin
Cinematographer: Dmitry Ulyukaev
Editing: Kirill Sokolov
Music: Max Rudenko
Main cast: Anna Mikhalkova, Victoria Korotkova, Sofia Krugova, Alexander Yatsenko, Olga Lapshina