By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
With films Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and 2016’s Pete’s Dragon as his first two feature films, filmmaker David Lowery has already made a name for himself as a writer/director capable of compelling and beautiful work. However, Lowery didn’t contently rest on his laurels and quickly began work on a new film that takes his art to more existential and artistically deeper levels. Though the title sounds plain and conventional, A Ghost Story is anything, but that. Lowery takes some hokey ghost story conventions and uses them to create a meditative and hauntingly exquisite piece that examines, life, love, happiness, sorrow, and loss.
Casey Affleck stars as a “C,” a dedicated, but struggling musician whose needs and desires in life are relatively simple and humble. Affleck gets reunited with his Saints co-star Rooney Mara who portrays his wife “M” in the film. Like most people, the couple has had their share of good times and bad times. While going through a particularly rough patch in their relationship, Affleck’s character is tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident. While his wife begins to mourn and try to cope with his loss, C’s spirit arises from the body, shrouded in a white sheet. Confused and disoriented, C’s ghost returns home where he can only observe M as she gets her life together and begins to move beyond the mourning process. Uncertain as to why he still remains on Earth, C stays in his home and witnesses life continue way beyond his own existence.
With A Ghost Story, writer/director David Lowery offers a lovely and mostly melancholy tale that does something that ghost stories rarely do. It offers the ghost’s nearly-silent perspective on the changing world around him. Lowery takes a soft-spoken and deliberately paced approach to the film that flows at a snail’s pace in the first couple of acts and then begins to fly through different eras in the later acts. The ghost begins to lose track of all time, much like people do as they get older. This pacing choice works mostly well, though I do have a gripe regarding one particular scene that runs way too long. Otherwise, Lowery has made a truly fascinating and introspective artistic piece that encourages much thought and discussion regarding life, death, and existentialism.
Lowery accomplishes a lot through the minimal dialogue, the gorgeous composition of his scenes and through the beautiful and intimate cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo. Lowery also gets some truly wonderful performances by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck who actually spends most of his screen time shrouded in a white sheet. That, in itself, is a remarkable feat. How does one deliver a poignant and heartfelt performance while dressed like sheet ghost? Affleck manages to pull it off and Lowery and Palermo manage to make it all look stunning. The film features a small assortment of other actors who serve their roles well with the only real standout being Jonny Mars who delivers a highly entertaining monologue on nihilism and existentialism.
The other thing that really struck me about this engrossing movie is the sense of humor it has in moments. Though the movie is mostly somber and pensive, the film has a few delightful, heartwarming, and amusing scenes that help lighten things a bit. This keeps the movie from being thoroughly depressing and from taking things way too seriously. The story might involve the suddenness of death and how it can leave issues and emotions unresolved, but Lowery does have a sly sense of humor about certain aspects of his story.
Now I know this type of film will not appeal to all audiences, but for cinephiles who enjoy art films, A Ghost Story is a must see. Instead of a more conventional horror take on this type of story, Lowery keeps his movie grounded on a more personal and emotional level, and keeps the talking to a minimum. Lowery compensates for that lack of dialogue with captivating visuals and riveting beats which reflect his characters’s desires to cling on to yesterday, but are eventually forced to face a frightening and uncertain future. As most people know, it can be difficult to let go of everything that one truly loves, even life itself. Lowery’s film is a touching work of art that reflects these feelings in a very inventive and enchanting way.