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MOVIES: Ghost Town Anthology (LFF 2019) - Review

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People are leaving small towns for the big cities in search of work, and as more and more people leave, the town that they left behind turns into a ghost town, and the same is happening the world over, but the fictional Canadian town of Irénée-les-Neiges feels the effects of a changing world heavily as director Denis Côté takes the concept of “ghost towns” quite literally to tell a modern day ghost story that has echoes of France’s hit TV series Les Revenants. In the bleak winter wilderness, the near two-hundred inhabitants of a Canadian town soon find themselves experiencing surreal encounters at all times of day as the New Year gets underway. People who have been identified as long since dead are coming back to life – unable to talk, yet able to walk and run.

It is the unnerving sense of dread that drives this film, which uses ghosts as a backdrop to explore a realistic look into the grieving process with one of the narratives of the film focusing on how a family copes after their son, a popular, well-liked boy named Simon crashes his car in what the townsfolk believe was a suicide rather than an accident. With the family wanting to reconnect with him from beyond the grave, the more the sightings of the dead occur and it isn’t long before they become public knowledge. It doesn’t stop the questions from being thrown in the direction of the audience and there is little in the way of answers, but then, as a reflection on the grieving process the lack of immediate answers keeps the audience in the dark as the characters, and in this case it nearly pays off, even if the ending doesn’t quite live up to what Côté promises at the start of the film.

The performances are naturalistic and suit the mood of the film, Ghost Town Anthology as Robert Naylor gives a strong form of accountability to Jimmy, Simon’s brother, who like his mother wants to believe that there is some form of life after death and want to see more of him. Josée Deschênes and Larissa Corriveau are also among the more standout performers of the cast – both earning nominations for the Prix Iris Canadian film award. Also nominated was the film’s cinematography – as the remote town is beautifully captured and brought to life by François Messier-Rheault who gives the film a real sense of location, with it not taking long for the audience to know the village as well as its inhabitants.

The signs that Jimmy is looking for start to appear, whether they are because Jimmy goes looking for them or whether they would have happened anyway we never find out the answer. Small masked children run around the street participating in games that frighten the residents whilst people who once lived in repossessed homes make silent acquaintance with the home’s shocked new owners. The film needs a strong balancing act to get the living characters right in a way that fits the tone of the piece to prevent it from becoming too absurd and although there are moments where the drama almost escalates off the edge; it helps build the characters to a crescendo, even if the road that the film takes to get there is muddled and not always a clear path. With such a wide cast of characters Ghost Town Anthology has some that are not always the most deserving of the audience’s focus of attention, but the film does rectify this by making the town feeling alive and lived in, and there is enough depth to its residents to portray the lively community.

The film itself isn’t the clearest ghost story and is very ambiguous, which won’t please every viewer but will be tailor made for some. But it feels reminiscent of Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper in its approach in how that used ghosts to help characters adjust to the grieving process, and even if both are clearly different films, there is enough about Ghost Town Anthology to recommend. It is something that is best experienced going in as blind as possible, as the less you know about this film before you watch it the better off you will be.

Look out for Ghost Town Anthology at the London Film Festival and watch the trailer here.

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