Shyamalan meets Tarkovsky in this enigmatic and disquieting drama shot in 16mm about the sociology of Canadian ‘ghost towns’ and the psychological impact on its inhabitants.
Dir. Denis Cote
2019 | Canada | Drama/Mystery | 97 mins | 1.85:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some disturbing scenes
Cast: Robert Naylor, Josee Deschênes, Jean-Michel Anctil
Plot: In a small remote town, a 21-year-old man dies in what seems like a car accident. While the victim’s family is immersed in grief and time loses all meaning, strange figures start emerging from the fog.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin)
International Sales: Films Boutique
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
I love this film, and what’s best is its sense of atmosphere. It begins with a strange fatal car accident, and the consequences of that not only affects the deceased’s family in question, but the entire town of Irénée-les-Neiges, an isolated place with a close-knit population of only 215.
Most of the town is now covered in snow, save for houses scattered across its barren terrain. It’s a desolate landscape, and some images (the film was shot in beautiful and intimate 16mm) are not unlike what Tarkovsky might have composed.
But as the title suggests, there is also the element of the supernatural, which is reminiscent of (prime) Shyamalan. But to call it an arthouse horror may be misleading because Ghost Town Anthology does not fall comfortably in the trappings of any genre.
It is an enigmatic work that explores the sociology of barely self-sufficient Canadian ‘ghost towns’, where folks can’t really see a bright future unless they motivate themselves to move to the city, which most can’t afford to—or that they are too comfortable with their stagnant, uneventful lives.
Director Denis Cote, who primarily made his name at Locarno, makes sure that things will become eventful through the course of his film. And he does so slowly but assuredly, with a tremendous grasp of tone.
Apart from his spectral imagery, Cote makes subtle use of sound design that may be best described as a series of ominous and reverberating ‘growls’ that accompany some of the film’s more mysterious and disquieting scenes.
As much as Ghost Town Anthology is an exploration of the bigger picture (i.e. the town) as it were, it is also effective as a treatise on the psychological impact on its inhabitants as they encounter grief and ennui.
Everyone seems to be in a state of physical and mental stasis, and Cote through his unique sleigh-of-hand, shows us that letting go and moving on is incredibly difficult. This would make a fascinating thematic double-bill with Olivier Assayas’ equally brilliant Personal Shopper (2016).