By Jim Slotek
The Henry James-ish ghost-as-metaphor may be kind of a lost art in the short attention span era, But Denis Côté’s “walking dead” movie Ghost Town Anthology presents so literal a metaphor, even squirrels could keep up.
Irénée-les-Neiges is an isolated Quebec town with a population of 215 and dropping fast with the closing of a local mine. As the movie opens, Simon Dubé, one of the handful of remaining (and now unemployed) young people, is seen committing apparent vehicular suicide.
This act, especially in a town where everybody knows everybody, is disruptive in the extreme, extending beyond the obvious anguish felt by Simon’s brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor), his dad (Jean-Michel Anctil) and mom Gisele (Josée Deschênes). In terminal denial, Mayor Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) is determined to put on a brave face, angrily rejecting the decision by regional health services to send a grief counsellor, and loudly declaring the community’s ability to solve its own problems and move forward.
This might be a workable approach, if dead people didn’t start showing up. The first is the most recent. A mute, but apparently corporeal Simon (he is able to open his dad’s car and sit silently in the backseat as he drives) shows himself separately to each member of his family. And stares at them.
There are creepy masked children who blow off firecrackers and commit acts of minor vandalism – apparitions apparently connected to a long-ago multiple murder in a house coveted as a fixer-upper by Pierre (Hubert Proulx).
Soon other people remembered as dead show up in fields, on streets and roads, just staring (and in one case, floating). They seem to bear no ill intent, but do show up alarmingly without warning – especially targeting Adele (Larissa Corriveau), the town quirky-girl who seems particularly sensitive to their presence.
Eventually, we’re told, the same phenomenon is being reported in small towns all over Quebec – but not in the big cities.
The cast members are all spot-on, but particularly Lavallée, whose mayor character is single-minded and self-centred in her proprietary passion for her town, doubling down with every bit of new evidence and ultimately reacting with rage toward the dead themselves, for ruining her everything-is-fine message.
Taken from, Répertoire des villes disparues, the first novel by young Quebec writer Laurence Olivier, Ghost Town Anthology visually revels in the literal “dead of winter,” in the story of a place where the dead literally outnumber the living. You want to call it a horror movie, but for its languid pace and the fact that the dead seem to mean no harm. They are merely announcing their presence in a place where their existence makes more sense than not.
You don’t have to travel very far anywhere in Canada these days to see towns whose economic and social life-signs are so weak, you practically see ghosts yourself. Ghost Town Anthology merely brings that feeling to life – or death.
Ghost Town Anthology. Directed and written by Denis Côté, from a novel by Laurence Olivier. Starring Robert Naylor, Larissa Corriveau and Diane Lavallée. Opens March 15 at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.