John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Whydunit, horror films help with quarantine boredom

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Since playing the Doctor on "Doctor Who," David Tennant has seemed to specialize largely in portraying unsavory characters with an undertone of foreboding that takes advantage of his better-acting chops, as opposed to his sometimes annoying tendency to do a bit of overacting. In "Deadwater Fell," Tennant uses his ability for darkness to great effect as a doctor who loses his family in a house fire, and the subsequent police investigation to understand what led to the tragedy.

Tennant plays Dr. Tom Kendrick, who seems to lead an idyllic life in a small Scottish town as a well-liked community member in an apparently perfect family situation with his daughters and wife, Kate (Anna Madeley). But when the fire ravages his life, the cracks within that perfect life begin to come out in the open, especially those involving the psychological struggles of Tom.

Though Tennant is at the center of the tragedy and investigation, the show is really about his friends Jess (Cush Jumbo) and Steve (Matthew McNulty) who, deeply affected by the deaths of Kate and the daughters, begin to notice things that disturb them, which brings out some secrets in their own life that they never wanted to reveal.

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If "Deadwater Fell" becomes more of a whydunit than a whodunit in the end, it's not one that spells out the why with the antiseptic precision of a mathematical equation. Instead, it allows for far more mystery as it explores the idea that answers to the worst, most crucial emotional question we have — that of why any of us do anything — is complicated, obtuse, confusing, and sometimes not even visible.


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When we think of a haunting, we think of the extreme presentations that decades of stories, particularly those presented in movies, have cemented in our brains, but there are many kinds that go less addressed. Haunting as a noun is a nuanced word that doesn't always have to be coupled with terror. It can also signify unease, guilt, secrecy, abandonment, rejection, solitude, alienation, all sorts of things that wear down on a person and cause both internal and external struggles. And sometimes it can be a collective encounter that is built from all these forms of haunting.

That what Canadian director Denis Cote portrays in "Ghost Town Anthology," a brooding film that begins as a rural drama and transitions into something mysterious and disturbing. It starts with a car crash that happens in isolation from any community, though after it takes place is investigated by several unnerving children wearing crude face masks and outdated clothing.

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The crash victim's fate inspires feelings of confusion for his family and for the larger community as they struggle to come to terms with what happened and the possible reasons why. Simon's family begins to dissolve under the pressure of the grief and the town's no-nonsense mayor (Diane Lavallee) intervenes and attempts to provide a bonding agent to keep everything together on the community's own terms, ushering forth normal life while protecting the sanctity of the loss.

But something bigger is going on. Figures are appearing in the distance. The so-called "welfare girl" Adele (Larissa Corriveau) begins to hear things in her house. Simon's father (Jean-Michel Anctil) tries to converse with memories that don't answer back. Stories about a dilapidated house begin to be recounted and resonate stronger than they should.

"Ghost Town Anthology" is a slow burn, to be sure, but it's a powerful example of doing it right. What it reveals are entrenched in emotional content as the situation builds into something that becomes impossible for certain characters to bear, and the haunting presented turns into an accrual of losses that pile onto the present like physical obstructions to change. This is an elegant, ethereal horror film that will resonate with those who have found themselves haunted without ever seeing a ghost.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at


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