Ghost Town Anthology Berlinale film review: a Canadian small town is haunted

Denis Côté’s Ghost Town Anthology is a haunting and memorable small town chiller

A haunting is going on in the remote, snow blanketed Quebec village of Irénée-les-Neiges. After a young man, Simon Dubé, dies by crashing his car into a concrete wall, mysterious incidents begin to manifest. There are eerie bumps and overhead footsteps in the night, while Simon’s mother, Gisèle (Deschênes), and brother, Jimmy (Naylor), are visited by their recent dearly departed. Meanwhile, a small horde of children in strange masks and cloaks run through fields and down streets.

As its title suggests, A Ghost Town Anthology is a fragmented film, moving from villager to villager. The whiskey slugging Mayor Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) attempts to keep things in order while a couple looking to move in together soon realise there’s a reason why a prospective house has been abandoned. Director Denis Côté paints a constellated portrait of a ghost town that is being haunted by both real and imaged ghosts. Irénée-les-Neiges stuck in time, as frozen in place as the ice around it. A visiting Montreal government advisor is met with the cold shoulder and she being the sole Muslim woman in the all white village suggests that it’s a xenophobic cold shoulder.

As the villagers realise that they are being visited by Irénée-les-Neiges’ previous inhabitants, they take it in their stride, more miffed than terrified of the undead. As the ghosts begin to mingle with the villagers, it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate the living from the dead.

Shot in 16mm, Côté creates a world that is folding in on itself, and while the film’s metaphor of a ghost town normalising the uncanny is hardly a new one – traces of Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone and The Returned are all here – Ghost Town Anthology’s atmospheric unreality is undoubtedly its greatest strength. Even a late scene involving levitation feels perfectly natural.

While Côté’s refusal to push beyond surface metaphor and a lack of plot will leave some audiences feeling empty-handed, Ghost Town Anthology’s cold, barren, unnerving canvas of a film casts a spell hard to shake.

Ghost Town Anthology was seen and reviewed at Berlinale 2019.