Kill It and Leave This Town is an impressive technical achievement and often stunning, but its central nihilism is oppressing and is bloated at feature length.
Although their cinematic cachet may have diminished since their heyday, animated films have always been a prominent form of artistic expression in Eastern Europe. Often, these films reflect eccentric and even avant-gardist tendencies, finding their fans among arthouse and festival audiences more than the general public. Through considerable innovation and frequent unconventionality, these works tend to welcome viewers into more free, surreal, and complicated territories, but it’s also not uncommon, thanks to recent histories, for such works to bear forth some acerbic, socio-political satire. Kill It and Leave This Town fits fairly nearly within this loose tradition. For his debut feature, Polish screenwriter and director Mariusz Wilczyński utilizes a minimalist, hand-drawn style — doodles might be a more precise descriptor — often rendered on lined paper even, to weave his haunted childhood memories into a very raw, grotesque, and nightmarish fantasy. Approximately 15 years in the making, Wilczyńsk’s culminating vision is something like free association horror; here, animated frames of black-and-white sketchings — occasionally colorized to punctuating effect, drawing attention to certain details or emphasizing moments of dramatic lighting — create grim and gruesome images, even melancholic, that enhance both the film’s prevailing expressionistic mode and its disorienting mood. It makes for a distinctly enthralling quality, empowering Wilczyński’s phantasmagoric tale rife with senility, decay, death, and forbidden love in an industrial town that is both decadent and godforsaken.
But, regardless of the director’s creative energy and the hypnotic feast of images he crafts, there’s also an agitating undertone to his film. The fact that Kill It and Leave This Town was first conceived as a short film is the most obvious issue and predictive of the ways in which it wears itself thin during its 88 minutes. In other words, while the work here initially registers as intriguing, eye-catching novelty, it loses much of its inceptive force before long, becoming occasionally tedious and imagistically repetitive as the scenes stack. Another part of the problem is evident in how Wilczyński seems to tend toward the contemporary Eastern Bloc trend of miserabilism and blankets everyone and everything (including himself) in a blasé misanthropic nihilism. There’s little room within the film’s bleak mercilessness to perceive any profundity amid the suffocating dirtiness, ugliness, and suffering. In this way, it’s easy to find similarities between Kill It and Leave This Town and fellow Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War; it’s as if Wilczyński’s debut borrows from that film’s oppressing temperament while also subsuming something of the waggish spirit and comic quiddity of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita into its unique calculus. It’s those latter similarities that will aid viewers in discerning the inspired moments and artistic promise of Kill It and Leave This Town amidst the abrasive and sullen propensities with which Wilczyński seems subconsciously obsessed. It’s also what suggests the potential for a more cohesive and compassionate work in the future.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | December 2020 — Part 1.