Domovoy (The Ghost), the hitman thriller from promising new director Karen Oganesyan offers a much-needed sign of hope for Russia’s ailing genre film segment. To its credit, the film sports relatively high production values and slick cinematography resulting in a glossy, polished look; a hyped-up new age soundtrack nicely amplifies the masterfully crafted mood of otherworldly dread and suspense; and Oganesyan’s fresh take on controversial top-of-the-hour subject matter dynamically interweaved with Dostoevsky-lite elements that manifest themselves towards the finale complete the magic formula.
Domovoy opens on a gloomy, rainy day as Anton Prachenko (Konstantin Khabenskiy), a best-selling crime novelist, picks up a manuscript from his editor and heads to a high-end Moscow bookstore to sign copies of his latest book, The Revenge of Domovoy, as they are brought in by fans. Before putting his signature inside the front cover, Anton obligingly asks each customer for their name and whether they enjoyed reading the book. Some time into the session, a casually dressed stranger in a baseball cap approaches, says his name is also Anton, and describes the novel as “shit” when presented with the usual question. He then takes his signed copy, walks out into the pouring rain, retrieves a handgun with a silencer from his jacket and proceeds to calmly shoot the driver and then the passenger of a passing vehicle.
Having just witnessed a contract killing in broad daylight for the first time in his life, Anton is truly shaken as he hurries out of the bookstore to reach the crime scene and experience firsthand the type of situation he has been writing popular fiction about for so many years. That evening, Anton – still finding it difficult to come to terms with what he has seen – struggles to put his impressions into words to use in an upcoming book. Consumed by his work, he does not seem interested in dinner and upsets his girlfriend Vika (Chulpan Khamatova) forgetting about their anniversary. The next day Anton predictably impresses the editor with his newly written piece, which leads him to wonder if firsthand experience may be the missing key to his writing.
On his way home, Prachenko inadvertently happens to stumble across the other Anton, the shooter from the previous day, who again speaks negatively of his writings and suggests he should try doing things firsthand before writing about them. In part fearing retribution since he has provided the police with information on the suspect and in part because he wants to find out more about the shooter, Prachenko does not report the encounter, but instead begins to meet the seemingly good-natured hitman on a regular basis and to document his firsthand experiences in the book he is writing. At one point, the hitman claims to be the legendary Domovoy, the main protagonist of Prachenko’s novels based on a real life killer who was supposed to have died in a police raid, but Anton does not take him seriously.
As the two men get to know each other, Domovoy (Vladimir Mashkov) seems to take a genuine interest in Anton’s work and invites the writer to go on missions with him so that he can experience all aspects of the trade firsthand. Anton gladly agrees and volunteers to try doing everything personally – from target surveillance to shooting practice – minus the actual killing. Surprisingly, this arrangement works for quite some time before the inevitable denouement finally takes place and Anton finds himself expertly framed for murder.
Amid the general unimpressiveness of most modern Russian genre productions, Domovoy stands out as a remarkable example of a film that does many things right.
Director: Karen Oganesyan
Starring: Konstantin Khabenskiy (Anton Prachenko), Chulpan Khamatova (Vika)
Runtime: 104 mins | Country: Russia | Language: Russian