A Ghost Story FILM REVIEW
A GHOST STORY
Director: David Lowery
Screenplay: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Liz Cardenas Franke, Barlow Jacobs
Rated R for brief language and a disturbing image.
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
**** out of *****
A bereft widow doesn't realize that her late husband has come home in David Lowery's A GHOST STORY.
The afterlife. What do we really know about it? What exactly happens to us when our time comes? On one end of the spectrum you have the belief that we enter into the warm embrace of a heavenly light and all is right in the universe while on the other end you have the cold and blunt belief that there's absolutely nothing. Now what if one's spirit actually had a choice they could make. Enter the light or go home until they are ready. The former returns one to the cosmos while the latter allows one to return home as a spirit; a ghost who is effectively haunting their former residence. David Lowery's latest film A GHOST STORY is a contemplative, lonely, engrossing, sometimes humorous and thought-provoking look at a haunting in a suburban home.
Now you wouldn't be at fault to find yourself chuckling at the sight of a ghost who literally appears on screen in a white bed sheet. True, way back when that was the customary image used to depict ghosts not just in movies but in print as well. On Halloween night, before costumes became more elaborate, it wasn't unusual to see kids running around the neighborhood wearing a white sheet with two eye-holes while carrying a plastic pumpkin pail full of candy. Who could ever forget the image of the Peanuts gang in IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN? Lowery uses this rather antiquated image to depict the spirit of C, played by Casey Affleck, but the seemingly silly notion wears off very quickly as you are drawn to this white sheet because you can mentally visualize what's going on beneath that thin piece of fabric.
Lowery's film actually goes beyond telling a traditional ghost story and to discuss any details would be deemed a spoiler. Lowery's take on the oft told supernatural tale is told from the recently deceased's perspective. Because Lowery has chosen to put his actor under a sheet we never see his face but can discern body language beneath it. This creates an interesting dynamic between film and viewer. Without a single line of dialogue or a traditional visual performance, one fully empathizes with C and as an active viewer can, in one's own estimation, see and feel what they perceive Affleck's performance to be in the moment. Your mind is imbuing Affleck's performance as the ghost.
Throughout the film Lowery uses long and languid takes where all you you are left with is what's on screen. For example, there's a scene where M, played by Rooney Mara, is eating a pie. In the background the spirit of C stands to the side watching her eat. This scene goes on for quite some time. In this moment, for this viewer at least, while watching it much of the time was spent ruminating upon what is going through their minds at that moment. What are they feeling? I was drawn to and felt in tune to the characters and their situation. This is just one example of many similar scenes that unfold throughout the film.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck give strong performances as M and C, respectively. Mara is quite affecting as she copes with the shock and grief of losing her husband. Affleck leaves a strong enough impression while alive that it carries over to when he returns as a sheet; that is indeed Affleck under the bed sheet. For an intimate, supernatural, relationship drama this actually features a surprisingly large supporting cast and they are all up to the task. At no point does anyone acknowledge the presence of some guy standing there under a bed sheet which adds further credibility to the story.
As strong as the performances were much of the credit for the film's success must be given to Lowery and director of photography Andrew Droz Palmero. Lowery's unique vision of the genre is transcending, thought-provoking and expansive. Palmero and Lowery's deliberate compositions and camera movement provide an enriched canvas of imagery and information in every frame. Lowery also edited the film and for a film that is mostly comprised of long, quiet takes it moves along at a quick pace.
David Lowery's A GHOST STORY is a sentimental and romantic take on the hereafter but there is no denying that it is a compelling and engrossing film about life and death. It shines a light not just on how we live but also how our lives impact those we know and love when we're gone. It's a resonant, touching, sad, lonely, thought-provoking film which provides viewers not only with a heartwarming interpretation of what may lie beyond but also possible backstories to countless hauntings both "real" and cinematic.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal