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Berlinale 2019: Ghost Town Anthology

Reviewed by Simon Ramshaw.

Director Denis Côté
Length 97 mins
Certificate
Rating ******----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article That Berlinale 2019 has featured at least two legitimate horror films thus far has come as a pleasant surprise. The first, Fatih Akin’s The Golden Glove, is perhaps the most deliberately-horrible time at the moving picture show I’ve had since Aleksei German’s Hard to be a God (2013). It may come as a comfort to know that the second is far less abrasive, and considerably more palatable. It comes in the form of Denis Côté’s frosty Quebecois chiller, Ghost Town Anthology.

A spooky parable about the remote town of Irénée-les-Neiges, the film kicks into action with a startling image. A car speeds into frame and veers off the road into a wall. The driver is killed instantly. Over the snowy verge arrive a group of children, clad in snow gear and wearing terrifying canvas masks. This is just the first of many uncanny happenings around the town, which are seemingly linked to the apparent suicide of the driver from the opening shot. The film then follows a number of characters, sent on their own unique trajectories after the death. As the tensions mount and the visions become more vivid, the townsfolk begin to question their reality.

Due to its ensemble cast, and the fractious relationships between them, Ghost Town Anthology often has to do a lot of legwork to keep all the plots spinning from scene to scene while also delivering a series of consistent scares. Sadly, it’s not entirely successful in either department, simultaneously undercooking the characters while repeating scares in a way that prematurely cuts the climactic horror from each individual ghostly diversion. It’s similar to Ti West’s The Innkeepers (2011) in this unfortunate regard - another film with fantastic individual moments, which failed to build on these and sustain a sense of tension for its duration. Thus, once Ghost Town Anthology’s has placed its cards on the table, it becomes a far less disconcerting affair, and soon settles into a coda that teases a development of the central idea - almost sticking, but not quite.

That being said, the film is textured wonderfully. The superlative 16mm cinematography turns down the film’s ‘temperature’ even lower than it needed to be. A lot of praise is due for the score and sound design as well; it’s a wonderfully subtle blending of Penderecki-esque creaks and groans, and a faint electrical undercurrent that does a great deal of the heavy lifting when the actual scares fail to do so.

The film manages to tie a wispy story together with some aplomb, painting a faintly moral tale as a cautionary example of communities shutting themselves off from the outside world, doomed to be haunted by the ideas and spirits of the past. The inability to move on or accept change reanimates past torments that simply leer at the insular community, and in this respect, it works marvelously as a piece of ‘social’ horror.

Although imperfect, Ghost Town Anthology works pleasantly in its strange, low-key register, avoiding over-reaching, or overstating its metaphors. Grounded by a roster of solid performances (Larissa Corriveau is a stand-out), Côté’s unique vision marks a pleasant change of pace from regular festival fare, and is refreshingly unashamed to be a legitimate horror movie.

This review was published on February 21, 2019.

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