October 15th, 2010

A Town Called Panic (Panique au village)

Directed by: Stéphane Aubier | Run time: 75 mins

Review by Colin Dibben

I feel like I’ve just been tickled gently by a slightly malevolent child. For 80 minutes. That’s right, I’ve just seen A Town Called Panic.

As a kid, you probably held plastic figurines of cowboys and Indians (of the American Nations type) and of farmers and farmer’s wives and policemen and other civil functionaries in your grubby little hands. You probably also had pigs and cows and horses. You gave them all a voice – animals and humans both – imagining the things they’d say if they were on a big adventure and not sitting in some stuffy office or on some stinking farmyard/ranch/reservation, waiting for the final redundancy.

Minutes later you were probably throwing them through the air at an imaginary monster from somewhere unspeakable, hoping they’d explode on impact and strafe the area with their brittle plastic innards.

My point being that you didn’t really ‘love and care’ for these objects that you animated in your games. And it was fun anyway ...

So, this Belgian film, based on a TV series (which is, I suspect, something like The Magic Roundabout – probably only because I still can’t believe the original Magic Roundabout isn’t out on dvd), rubs the false memories of childhood foisted on you Total Recall-style by the likes of Toy Story, in the do-do. No, you didn’t love and cherish these immobile bits of plastic – your attention was more like domestic abuse.

This is a film solely peopled with obdurate pieces of molded plastic – and they all are imbued with adventures as chaotic and meaningless as their movements are stilted by plastic bases.

The film follows the adventures of Cowboy, Indian and Horse as they seek to save their home from a) their own stupidity and b) nameless intruders from another dimension. To say more would be to spoil the fun: part of the attraction of the film is its constant traincrashing of events, piled one on top of another in a way an Al-Quaeda mastermind could only think of dreaming about.

Now, Cowboy, Indian, Horse have none of the mutual dependencies one has come to expect from such a trio: Horse is happy to take a shower and attend piano lessons while Cowboy and Indian have hissy fits downstairs. These aren’t really characters, just modalities of linguistic energy, like the scriptwriter really is a small child imitating the nonsense grown-ups speak around it.

After a slow rural-idyllic start, the film opens up into a breathless chaos of linear narrative, a manic ‘and then ... and then ... and then’ ... Along the way, we are treated to a couple of two-horse slow dances, much eating of chocolate haystacks, a small figurine eating a real mansize portion of toast covered in chocolate spread, a giant mechanical penguin that lobs snowballs...

The film is refreshingly lacking in archness, irony, innuendo, sentimentality or grown-up wisdom forced from the mouths of children. It’s a bricolage, innit: a series of objects thrown together and haphazardly rearranged in a multi-dimensional fuzzy-felt world, which feels like it’s made less from fuzzy-felt and more from bricks. Lots of bricks.

Especially towards the climax of the film, objects are thrown together according to the slightest metonymical logic: a sentry box turns into a prison, a razor clamshell palisade appears from out of a pond, a giant clam shell is prised open to reveal our trapped heroes – including my fave, the farmer’s wife who carries a bucket the size of her ever-angry hubby in her right hand at all times.

And then there’s the cows: one minute they are in the kitchen, consoling the farmer’s wife with affectionate words. The next they are being used as plastic missiles against an enemy edifice. Only a child or a psychopath could be so empathic and callous, one after the other.

It’s not as funny as Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie, but A Town Called Panic is just as fun and definitely weirder, in all the right places.

Also coming soon at Everyman Cinemas Screen on the Green: Classic horror specials on Halloween:, Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead 2 and the Exorcist.

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