Written by: Matt Patti | April 20th, 2020
Ghost Town Anthology (Denis Côté, 2019) 1½ out of 4 stars.
The title of director Denis Côté’s Ghost Town Anthology may be confusing to some; the work is not an anthology, at least not in the typical sense. It is a single 95-minute feature film. The film presents one main narrative, and not many short stories built into one collection. However, I believe what the title aims to say is that this film is a compilation of sorts of different characters reacting to the same situation, all within the same town. So, although there is a central driving narrative, we do follow a number of different individuals, families, and town officials as they react to the same situation, somewhat connected, but also somewhat disconnected from each other.
Ghost Town Anthology takes place in a small town outside of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, with a population of only 215. The town is a close-knit community in which everyone knows one another, but they don’t often accept help from outsiders. The film begins with a car crashing into a quarry wall. We later learn that the man inside the car, Simon Dubé, has died and is the first death in the town in many years. He leaves behind a brother, Jimmy Dubé, and a mother, Gisèle Dubé. Both are distraught and refuse to believe Simon’s death was a suicide even though it is a commonly held thought in the town. Jimmy goes out searching for answers and trying to get a sign from Simon, while Gisèle wanders around the quarry doing the same. Soon, many strangers begin to enter the small town, much to the residents’ alarm. The town’s strong-willed and fearless mayor, Simone Smallwood, ensures everyone that everything will be alright. But even she doesn’t know what is going on. Who are these strangers and what do they want?
The film is shot on 16mm film and has a very old, classic vibe. The visual palette consists of muted grays and darker colors, most likely to contribute to the sense of dread and despair in the town. Unfortunately, the color scheme also supports the emptiness and dullness of the unremarkable scenes that unfold. The film is extremely slow and drags for much of its runtime. We are introduced to a number of characters, but most of them are uninteresting and irrelevant. Even the main players – Jimmy and his mother Gisèle – are bland and forgettable. The lone interesting character in the film is Mrs. Smallwood, the town mayor. She is strong, unflinching, and will do whatever it takes to ensure her town continues to run as it always has. If only the other characters shared her passion …
The story seems to linger in space for most of its length. Although it is somewhat interesting to see how people in a small town deal with outsiders and difficult situations, the characters themselves are not interesting enough to maintain intrigue. The circumstances are, however, just intriguing enough. It takes a great deal of time before anything substantial happens, but once it does the film picks up greatly and the choices characters make become more interesting, even though the characters themselves are dull. Unfortunately, this happens way too late in the film to salvage what is an uninteresting, pedestrian majority of the film.
Overall, Ghost Town Anthology will please some with its classic 16mm presentation and stylistic color and atmospheric choices. However, for this writer, the story wasn’t interesting enough until towards the end of the film and the characters were too poorly written to sustain the narrative until that time. Some enjoyment can be taken from the style and direction, but the plot and characters are simply not strong enough to carry the movie. Overall, we are left with feelings reminiscent of a ghost town, itself: bland, empty, and soulless.