[Fantastic Fest 2021 Review] THE EXECUTION (Казнь)

In THE EXECUTION (Казнь), the audience meets Issa Davydov (Niko Tavadze), who is celebrating his promotion to police chief with his family. However, he receives a phone call that reveals that a serial killer case that he believed was long behind him is rearing its head. A new victim (Aglaya Tarasova) has been discovered alive and many questions have begun to surface. As the film progresses, the audience is taken back and forth in time, where we learn that for more than a decade, the Russian police forces in the area have tried to stop one of the country’s most evasive serial killers. Davydov is brought in to try to make progress on capturing him. But, as the manhunt intensifies, we soon begin to see how the investigation takes hold of the detective, and how the line between the detective and the killer starts to blur over time.

THE EXECUTION is the feature directorial debut of Lado Kvataniya, who co-wrote the screenplay with Olga Gorodetskaya. The film stars Niko Tavadze, Daniil Spivakovsky, Yulia Snigir, Evgeniy Tkachuk, Aglaya Tarasova, and Victoria Tolstoganova.

THE EXECUTION (Казнь) itself is layered in complexity. Its non-linear narrative may frustrate some viewers. However, there is a major benefit in how Kvataniya and Gorodestskaya have developed this narrative style. This non-linear nature to the story allows the audience to take the knowledge learned in each chapter as we jump back and forth in time as the investigation develops. This method allows the audience to take what we learn and try to solve the mystery ourselves, forcing us to analyze whether or not we intend to. The downside to this method, though, is that there is a lot of information to convey which does impact the overall flow of story pacing. At times, the film dragged. For those with a background in psychology already, this process may make solving the mystery quicker. With that said, though, there are surprises revealed that due in part to strong performances will still shock and surprise.

Thematically, there is a lot to dissect. The time period reflected in THE EXECUTION is significant. It provides fertile ground for analysis, especially when taking into account the year the film starts in (1988), and where it immediately cuts forward to in 1991. From the years 1988 to 1991, the Soviet Union was beginning the process of disintegrating, with a lot happening internally that would eventually bubble over. It’s difficult not to see the time period reflected in the character of Issa. The issue of masculinity, or toxic masculinity, is also a visible thread to pluck at in this film. It is easy to see it reflected in the actions of most male characters onscreen. With the heavy psychological emphasis featured on the development of individual characters in the film, to see how the destructive emphasis on visible masculinity is subtly explored provides much to think about as a viewer.

The performances featured in THE EXECUTION (Казнь) are excellent. There isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. There are a couple of performances that are difficult not to highlight. Niko Tavadze’s Issa Davydov is a complicated man; the performance itself is full of nuances, with a rippling tension just always bubbling under the surface. Daniil Spivakovsky is brilliant, never missing a beat in the complicated role he carries. Knowing his family’s background in psychology, I can see the wealth of knowledge he might have pulled from to carry off what he did. Evgeniy Tkachuk’s Ivan has, arguably, the most tragic arc of the bunch, with the character’s idealist nature working against him in a system determined to crush any hope within.

Echoing the hallmarks of a classic Greek tragedy, THE EXECUTION is a strong feature debut from Lado Kvataniya. The research to capture the time period, the system, and the psychological makeup of the characters radiates onscreen. Placing the film in this particular time period of USSR history provides additional complexity and depth. It aids in highlighting the failures of the system as all as to how corruption and, perhaps, the conformative behavior lends itself to personal destruction. Kvataniya and co-writer Olga Gorodetskaya are the ones to watch out for. I greatly look forward to what both of them do in the future because their point of view is necessary and fascinating.

THE EXECUTION (Казнь) had its World Premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest, which takes place from September 23rd – 30th.

Sarah Musnicky
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