Kill it and Leave This Town ’s complete lack of plot and macabre imagery will alienate most viewers, but some will find value in its horror.
When one sits down to watch an animated film, a few things can be expected. Usually, animated movies cater to children and their parents, with simple moral lessons and colorful animation that will engross the kids and pacify the adults. Those films that don’t have a family audience in mind, such as Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, still conform to the standard story structure that you would find in a traditional live-action film. These trends have led to somewhat of a standstill in the animation medium. While experimental cinema is alive and well when it comes to live-action filmmaking, animation has been considerably further behind the curve. So, when an experimental animated film is released, it usually sparks discussion and deliberation, and one of the best recent examples of this is Mariusz Wilczynski’s directorial debut Kill it and Leave This Town. An incompressible nightmare that radically subverts the traditions of the animation medium, screening this week at BAM’s Kino Polska exhibit on new Polish Cinema.
To even attempt to summarize the plot of Kill it and Leave This Town would be an exercise in futility. From the first frames, Wilczynski appears hell-bent on keeping the audience as confused and disoriented as possible for all 80 minutes of the runtime. While the plot description of the film reads “Fleeing from despair after losing those dearest to him, the film’s hero hides in a safe land of memories where time stands still and those dear to him are still alive”, this is more of a starting point for interpretation than a guidebook on how to read the events of the film. While there does appear to be a central character named Janek (voiced by Maja Ostaszewska) whose memories the film explores, he shares relatively little screen time and appears more as a player in an ensemble than a traditional film lead. Though the film focuses on his memories, many of which are from his childhood, the focus is never on him. Rather, the scenes drift between a rotating cast of seemingly unrelated characters including a bus driver, the owner of a fish shop, and Janek’s family. This lack of focus on any one character causes the film to feel more like a brief look at a single location that the characters inhabit rather than an examination of the characters themselves.
While Kill it and Leave This Town may skimp on character and plot, one area that does not feel incomplete is in the imagery. Wilczynski spent over 15 years bringing the project to life and the effort can be seen on screen. Though the animation style is quite simple, often just a plain pen drawing, the selective use of the color red and sparse use of detailed backgrounds create a feeling of unease in the viewer that doesn’t subside until the credits roll. This minimalist style is at its most chilling when Wilczynski is going all out with the imagery. Some notable highlights include a grandmother being filleted like a fish and a murder of crows disemboweling what looks to be a human corpse. While these scenes would be shocking enough if placed in a slasher or torture-porn film, the frankness with which the images are displayed is sure to elicit a reaction, be it discomfort or nausea, in the most hardened of viewers.
Though Kill it and Leave This Town does have no discernable narrative to comment on, the film description given above can function as a jumping-off point for how to interpret the individual scenes of the film. If the events on screen are the memories of Janek, as Wilczynski states they are, then the persistent appearance of children and parents suggests that many of Janek’s memories are of his childhood. If that is to be the case, then the film may function as a dark perversion of the childhood innocence often portrayed in the animation medium. While the films of Disney and Pixar often present a sanitized version of growing up that occasionally hints at mature issues, Kill it and Leave This Town establishes early that Janek’s childhood has been devoid of innocence from an early age, a theory that appears more and more feasible as the film progresses.
Of course, this is just a theory, and the lack of narrative in Kill it and Leave This Town is ultimately its greatest weakness. Though the imagery on screen is striking and memorable, the average viewer will most likely be left confused and unsatisfied by the time the film closes. Those who enjoy intuitive storytelling will likely find much to enjoy, and Wilczynski deserves props for making an animated film with strong horror elements. But overall, Kill it and Leave This Town is catering to a very specific audience, and anyone on the outside is probably better off skipping it.
Kill it and Leave This Town will have its New York Premiere at BAM’s “Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema” Series. The film will be screened April 30th – May 6th on BAM’s virtual streaming platform.