Stéphane Aubier’s and Vincent Patar’s 2009 Belgian animation, A Town Called Panic, is an odd little film. It renders stop-motion animation in a hyper-active manic way, unlike any other film you are likely to see.
The main characters of Cowboy, Indian, and Horse (whose action toy design is as simple and childlike as their names suggest) jerk around the screen at an alarming rate with no concern for realism. This is a film of utter lunacy and absurdity. To describe the ‘plot’ would neither do it justice, nor be particularly relevant; so much of its comic power comes from inducing scoffs of bewilderment at what you are viewing.
We start off with Cowboy and Indian rushing around like headless chickens as they try to find Horse a birthday gift. In one of a torrent of visual gags, they order 500 bricks to build him a barbecue, only to realise that they’ve accidentally ordered 5 million. That’s the start of a string of visual impossibilities, piling up on top of each other so fast that your brain can barely take one scene in before you’re on to the next. It’s an absurdist fever dream.
The title doesn’t lie: there’s a sense of panic infused in everything the characters do. Their town is set in a serene countryside, and the interiors of their houses are cavernous, so it’s all the stranger to see such a sense of panic in a place that should be so calm. There’s so much energy boiling up in these tiny stick figures: the smallest one — who is dwarfed by all his furniture and belongings, including a gigantic piece of toast that he devours by practically launching himself at it — is also the angriest and most… panicked.
It’s hard to put into words just why A Town Called Panic works. Its comedy is assaultive: there’s so much going on — so many oddities to take in — that it would be near impossible to attempt to dissect it. But that’s the film’s greatest strength: you’ll want to see it as there’s nothing quite like it. New things can be thrilling, and here’s a film where every second is new. Nobody would ever accuse it of being predictable.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden