Writer/Director Kirill Sokolov possesses a unique ability to transform family strife into pitch-black, hyper-violent physical comedy for our amusement. Sokolov’s debut, Why Don’t You Just Die!, let the bone-crunching action and bloodletting unfurl drama between a father and daughter. His latest, No Looking Back, pits generations of women against each other for a no holds barred grudge match. While not as frenetically paced as his debut, Sokolov’s latest brings more violent family dysfunction but balances it with heart.
Olga (Victoria Korotkova) knows how to take a beating. On the cusp of release, we meet her in prison, tied up and taking some punches from the guards. Once her four-year sentence for stabbing her boyfriend in the eye is up, she promptly visits her mother, Vera (Anna Mikhalkova), to take custody of her 10-year-old daughter Masha (Sofia Krugova). Except Vera refuses to give up Masha without a fight, even stabbing Olga to prove her point. It kickstarts a violent chase, with Olga and Masha on the run from Vera, who’s enlisted Olga’s one-eyed ex Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko) to help retrieve them at any cost.
Sokolov bides his time in cutting to the heart of this often cynical exploration of motherhood and maternal instincts, instead setting up the personalities and dynamics between the core players. Olga doles out almost as much punishment as she receives but wants what’s best for her foul-mouthed daughter. Masha hasn’t seen her mother in years, though she eagerly chooses her over her authoritarian grandmother. Vera demonstrates over and over just how little maternal bonds mean to her as she uses lethal force to reclaim Masha. Oleg gets caught in the middle, still holding a torch for Olga but intimidated by Vera.
A subplot involving the prison guard’s family parallel’s the motherhood theme but doesn’t organically work with the central narrative and isn’t nearly as fleshed out either. Why Don’t You Just Die! star Vitaliy Khaev appears as part of this subplot, unrelated to his previous character, but it feels like nothing more than a cameo.
The cat and mouse chase presents a series of action sequences and set pieces, showcasing Sokolov’s sense of style. The vivid color palette emphasizes blood red and vibrant forest greens, lending hyperrealism that heightens the over-the-top violence between three generations of women.
No Looking Back lacks the sustained intensity of Sokolov’s previous effort, though, and energy dissipates the longer the women evade their inevitable emotional confrontation. While the action ultimately fulfills, not everything gets resolved to satisfaction. Even if it does feel true to the characters that these women aren’t the type to talk out their feelings, Sokolov skips a few beats to rush to the conclusion.
Sokolov’s sophomore effort isn’t nearly as strong or as intense as his debut, but it still demonstrates his distinct flair for action, violence, and twisted humor. Young Krugova is a scene-stealer as the fearless Masha, the shining beacon of hope and potential in a deranged family tree. Korotkova also impresses as the vulnerable yet tough-as-nails mom who sustains an insane amount of damage. Olga and Masha provide the beating, bloodied heart beaten to a pulp in a dementedly funny way.
No Looking Back made its World Premiere at SXSW.