A Ghost Story

First and foremost, if you’re one of those casual movie goers who perhaps will just look at a title or promotional poster, think ‘that looks like something I might like’ and dive in with blissful ignorance. Then take heed.  A Ghost Story is NOT a horror film. No schlocky jump scares or CGI boogeymen are present here, Ok?  good. There is a haunting theme throughout, however it’s not one born of fear, but of sadness. A Ghost Story, is at once a clever, strange and heartfelt delve into love, loss and grief. And asks you to imagine what it would be like to see the people we love going on without us.

We’re introduced to a young couple living in a modest, rickety looking suburban home. Played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, we’re never given their names, only simply referred to as ‘M’ (Mara) and ‘C’ (Affleck). He is a musician and composer and she appears to go out to work a daily 9-5 job. They are shown to have a tender and loving relationship, but not without conflict. He can sometimes be sullen and moody, often wrapped up in his music. She is keen to move, but he has an attachment to the place, and is reluctant to leave it.  So far, so mundane it seems. Until one day tragedy strikes and (don’t worry this isn’t spoiling anything) he is killed in an off screen car crash. Casey Affleck still remains as the films star however, only now he’s draped in the white sheet that covered him in the morgue. He’s now a ghost, and he wants to return home.

That initial image of Affleck decked out in what seems like a rudimentary kids Halloween outfit (when it’s actually a very clever piece of costume design) is where the more cynical viewer might just check out entirely. Or it will no doubt raise a few sniggers, seen as a joke by those less invested in the film up to that point. But for me, it’s simplicity is genius. With a mixture of expert pacing, editing and Affleck’s brilliantly subtle performance, you’re always engaged and fixed on that white sheet with eye-holes. Yet at the same time, it can also be seen as a blank canvas for the viewer to project their own thoughts and feelings onto. What would it be like to be the unseen ghost? unable to interact with those left behind? The concept is just handled so well and delivered in such a clever way, that it’s unlike almost anything you’re likely to see.

Now there are times where it will test the patience of even the most enduring audience members. Long, protracted scenes play out for what seems like an eternity. One in particular involving a grief stricken Mara, spending well over 5 minutes just eating a pie, while the ghostly spectre of Affleck looks on. You’d be forgiven for thinking by a certain point ‘OK I’ve seen enough of Rooney Mara eating a pie now’ but what it does is give a real sense of what the Ghost feels. Unable to intervene. All he can do is watch.

The half way point of the film might be where most other features would end things, there’s certainly a feeling of closure and acceptance for one of the characters anyway. But for the other there’s still more to the story. And the crux of the story is that bereavement isn’t just limited to the person left alive, but only that person is able to process the grief and move on. The ghosts in this heart-breakingly sad tale are left waiting for an answer to a question that they might never find. Where the film goes from this point should be seen, rather than explained.

Despite being under a bed sheet for the majority of the run time, as I’ve already stated, Casey Affleck’s performance really is fantastic. From a slight head move to the way he just embodies the presence of the ghost, it’s truly remarkable. Rooney Mara, is equally as good, low-key sadness etched on her face as she tries to move on from the emptiness that’s now in her life. The chemistry between the two during the pre-ghost scenes feels natural as well. There’s maybe only about ten minutes of dialogue in the whole film, but the set up and performances are so good that an abundance of words really isn’t needed.

The haunting, ethereal score by Daniel Hart is beautiful and compliments the on screen images perfectly. The home movie style framing gives everything an intimacy that makes you feel closer to the story playing out in front of you. For such a low budget indie offering, It looks and feels sublime.

Director David Lowry has created a uniquely brilliant piece of art here.  I loved it right after seeing it, and since then I’ve kept thinking about it and going over it again and asked myself the questions that it invokes. The more I think about it the more my appreciation for it grows. It won’t be to the tastes of everyone. Some will no doubt despise or ridicule the whole concept. But if you can stick with it and embrace it , you’ll be rewarded in the end.

A Ghost Story is a strange curio amidst a sea of blockbusters. A lone oddity surrounded by never ending franchises.  I hope it gets the appreciative audience it rightly deserves.  One of the most deeply affecting films I’ve seen for a long time, and it’s definitely one I won’t forget. Wonderful.

David Logan
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