October 19, 2019

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A unique tale of what haunts us

Low-key social realism meets spooky effects in unconventional ghost story

COUZIN FILMS</p><p>Larissa Corriveau playes Adèle from Ghost Town Anthology.</p>

COUZIN FILMS

Larissa Corriveau playes Adèle from Ghost Town Anthology.

The dead don’t die in this subdued and eerily strange drama, but Ghost Town Anthology isn’t a standard ghost story.

Director Denis Côté (Curling, Boris sans Béatrice), loosely adapting the novel Répertoire des villes disparues by Quebec writer Laurence Olivier, is more concerned with charting the slow demise of small rural communities.

Blending low-key social realism with sudden spooky effects, Côté shows us a town haunted by memory, grief and failed hopes.

And also by dead people.

The dead don’t die in this subdued and eerily strange drama, but Ghost Town Anthology isn’t a standard ghost story.

Director Denis Côté (Curling, Boris sans Béatrice), loosely adapting the novel Répertoire des villes disparues by Quebec writer Laurence Olivier, is more concerned with charting the slow demise of small rural communities.

Blending low-key social realism with sudden spooky effects, Côté shows us a town haunted by memory, grief and failed hopes.

And also by dead people.

The film, which is in French with English subtitles, starts abruptly with a car skidding on a winter road and driving into a half-built wall.

Twenty-one-year-old Simon Dubé is killed, but we aren’t sure of the exact circumstances.

His mother (Josée Deschênes), father (Jean-Michel Anctil) and older brother, Jimmy (Robert Naylor), grieve his death, all three actors delivering strong, understated performances.

Gradually, the town’s mourning seems to draw out something hidden, and we begin to suspect Simon has somehow come back.

There are some parallels here to the French TV series The Returned (and its U.S. remake), as well as Glitch, an Australian take on this idea.

Côté’s approach is almost perversely low-key, however. His overall esthetic is austere and wintry — literally wintry, relying on a grey and white palette of snow, rock and ice.

The horror effects are minimalist but effective, often chillingly so.

We see children in odd costumes and masks; we hear mysterious sounds in upstairs rooms; we see strangers standing still and silent in a January field.

Sometimes, Côté shows only the living and their reactions to these unknown presences, and that’s often the most unsettling thing of all.

The sense of the supernatural is always paralleled — sometimes, a bit too obviously — by social commentary.

In this remote town of 215 souls, the mine has closed down, houses sit abandoned, the young people have left for the city.

At Simon’s funeral, the desperately upbeat mayor (Diane Lavallée) harangues the community.

She fears, perhaps rightly, that his death poses an existential threat to her fragile town.

Côté is both clear-eyed and compassionate in his depiction of the residents, suggesting a thin line where tradition, community and self-sufficiency can sometimes shift over into insularity, isolation and fear.

There is a powerful sense of place in Ghost Town Anthology, but also something cool and remote in Côté’s approach.

Sometimes, the symbolism overwhelms the human element, and the art-house conceptualizing sits uneasily with the genre touches.

But maybe that in-between tone fits a town where the dead now outnumber the living.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

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