Denis Côté’s unsettling look at a small-town tragedy resists the temptation to become a horror movie, but instead offers a thought-provoking study of how we cope when our loved ones are taken away.
The film begins with a speeding car careering off the road into the snow, and within minutes we learn that the driver, Simon, was a 21-year-old very popular among the 215 inhabitants of Irénée-les-Neiges. His mother Gisèle refuses to countenance the notion that his death might have been suicide, though his slightly older brother Jimmy, who is himself pretty bored with life in the village, suspects that Simon felt frustrated by country life and saw no other way out.
While Côté never takes the story – adapted from a novel by one Laurence Olivier – down the horror-movie path, his film is frequently very unsettling in its suggestion that Simon, and indeed other deceased members of the local population, may not really have moved on to another realm after all. In this respect Ghost Town Anthology may call to mind Robin Campillo’s 2004 film Les Revenants, though in that case the return of the dead was examined in terms of its psychological, economic and sociopolitical effects on living relatives; here, for much of the film it’s left unclear whether the return of the dead is real or imagined, an ambiguity which is very effectively sustained by slightly grainy 16mm cinematography and a very subtle use of sound.
Geoff Andrew, Sight & Sound