Film Review: Ghost Town Anthology

Written by: Riyan Bajric

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in other dimensions? Do you believe in reincarnation? Ghost Town Anthology is a film that brings questions like this to the forefront of your consciousness. The film opens with a frigidly framed car crash, that appears to happen out of nowhere, finding a way to sneak between sounds of the wind blowing and the trees creaking. The driver of the car was Simon Dube played by Phillipe Charette, leaving behind his distraught parents Romuald played endearingly by Jean-Michel Anctil and Gisele played by Josée Deschênes. His older brother Jimmy played with skill by Robert Naylor picks the film up from his brother’s death, beginning a search for his brother because in his mind he could not have just left him like that even though the audience can see that Jimmy knows the true cause of his brother’s death and it was not accidental, making Jimmy’s search for signs of his brother all the more heart wrenching. The father, Romuald, tells his wife Giselle he is going to buy cigarettes, ultimately leaving a note explaining that he needs time and space to mourn the death of his son. Personally the scenes that followed of the father Romuald and his grieving process were some of my favorite moments of the film and the director makes no attempt at making it clear if the father is ever going to actually return. 

The director of Ghost Town Anthology, Dennis Cote has quite a vision and understanding of spiritual imagery and feeling, the sound design is something that is so unique and unnervingly special. The brilliance of it is chiefly noticeable in the fathers grieving scenes. Cote masks bleak desolate moving landscapes shot as if the camera has been mounted in a 1987 pickup truck, with sounds of wind, static, and crackling; the only difference being in the patterns the sounds play in is completely different from anything I have heard before. The film was shot in 16mm and in these brief moments the 16mm film looks much closer to 8mm film, clearly having been scratched and tampered with by the creators of the film and then developed in black and white to add to the lo-fi feelings being heavily transmitted through the film. The camera movements in these very vague almost elusive scenes is all the more interesting, if it doesn’t feel like it’s been mounted to a pickup truck, it feels as if it’s been mounted to a wounded animal walking its way to its demise, trudging along the bare landscape.

The death of the boy sends shockwaves through the small town, ultimately becoming the sole focus of the town’s mayor Simone Smallwood, played by Diane Lavallée, who appears to have one sole mission in life and that is to ensure that her town carries on its daily life, every day, with no change or help from outsiders. As a reaction to the boy’s death, a political official known to Smallwood sends a psychiatrist from the “big city” to assist with the psychological effects of the boy’s death in the town. The new face is quickly dismissed by the mayor who claims that the towns people is made up of “grown ups” and they can “handle themselves”, leaving the story to the isolation of the few faces the audience has seen. One of the faces that is most intriguing is a woman named Adele, played by Larissa Corriveau. Adele is the type of character whom simply steals the camera because she has a look that is so unusual and uncanny. Her character is a supposed newcomer to the town, making it all the more interesting due to her severe social anxiety. Dennis Cote captures how one feels when they have social anxiety with swift minimalism, particularly in a scene early on in the film where he utilizes a tracking shot. The camera tracks Adele from the washroom of a New Year’s Eve party, in the middle of a pep talk nonetheless, all the way through the party until she encounters Jimmy and his best friend Andre. The way Larissa Corriveau walks through the party, making sure to never once look in place, avoiding physical contact and eye contact is beyond an accurate depiction of social anxiety and she hits her marks perfectly. The dialogue between Adele, Jimmy and Andre is innocent and naturally dry, a true contender for the most cringe worthy moment in cinema this year.

As strange people begin to arrive in the town including Jimmy having an encounter with his recently deceased brother with no explanation and more and more of the townspeople beginning to see the people themselves the film shifts its gears to more serious questions. There are multiple scenes with supremely high tension in the gradual revealing of these strange arrivals to the town. The town’s people begin to almost show frustration to their attendance, not because they are ghosts but because it further punctuates their isolation by having these people show up. What more of a reason to move to the big city than having the dead walk your neighbourhood, right? This commentary of life and death, and exposure versus isolation become very focal themes in the film and it makes for truly different cinema.

Overall the film is quite good, although at times disorganized and scattered with the plot and character development. Dennis Cote has made primarily documentaries and experimental films, having Ghost Town Anthology be considered as his first official feature film. The application of 16mm film and shaky cam prove effective in not only the setting and story but mesh perfectly with Cote’s eye and style. The film feels as if it is a short film that has been extended and obviously this can be attributed to Cote’s former projects. It would be interesting to see him apply his eye for human nature and psychology to something slightly less experimental. In the end Ghost Town Anthology raises lots of questions about life, death, reincarnation and having enough time, and it is a quality contribution to the supernatural genre. 

Night Film Reviews: 7 Out of 10 Stars.

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