A Ghost Story review: David Lowery delivers one of the best films of the year with his haunting love story starring the excellent Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
A Ghost Story review by Paul Heath, June 2017
Let it be known from the absolute outset, A Ghost Story is one of those movies that needs to be experienced knowing as little as possible about what is contained within its relatively short 87 minutes. While the film will not be ruined because of this review, I do allude to a few minor plot-points, so do proceed with a little caution.
First up though, as you decide whether to proceed or not, a little about the history of David Lowery’s latest film, one that he made shortly after wrapping up work on Pete’s Dragon, the redo of the classic Disney film, the celebrated indie director’s most commercial film yet. Lowery reportedly wrote A Ghost Story in a day, texted the film’s two lead actors, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, co-stars on Lowery’s 2013 effort Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, to ask if they wanted to do something, shot the thing in a just a few weeks, and then premiered it to a Sundance audience 5-6 months. If nothing else, that’s a feat one its own – to conceive, shoot, edit and showcase a film at a pretty major international film festival within six months? Wow.
But of course, we have to ignore all of that and judge the film on its own merits – just as well that I knew none of this or indeed anything else about the movie prior to watching it. My thoughts are 100% pure.
Those minor spoilers start now.
A Ghost Story is exactly what its title suggests. Or is it? Is it a love story? Well, it’s both. We open to a couple seen on-screen absolutely in love with one another. The unnamed couple, known only as C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara), have apparently lived in their modest abode where we meet them for some time, and M clearly wants to up sticks and move on, though C is quite content with where he is living. This element of the story is slowly revealed during the first third, but very early on we see that C has been killed in an horrific car accident directly outside his home. Cut to a morgue a short while later and M can be seen enter the frame to identify C’s lifeless body. Lowery’s camera lingers after M exits the frame, and a brief time later, long after everyone has left the room, C suddenly sits up on the gurney on which he lies.
We cut to the halls of the hospital, C, now as a ghost with the same sheet over his and dark eyes cut out of the front where his own would be, can be seen walking the corridor, completely unseen by anyone else. He eventually makes it back to the house he shared with M, the young grief-stricken woman unable to feel his presence at all.
I will stop there. Anything else would spoil this brooding, haunting and very original indie that really does need to be experienced in its purest form. I can say that a lot happens in the film’s 87 minutes. While it’s easy to see how Lowery managed to pen his screenplay in just one day, it’s also easy to see how he’s developed the film during his very experimental shoot. There are many elements to this story, one obviously involving the theme of love as well as loss, but the accomplished filmmaker also factors in elements of time, will and the willingness not to let go. Is the house being haunted by the C character, or does the house haunt him?
When you’re watching, or indeed experiencing Lowery’s latest, it’s very difficult to imagine just where his narrative will take you. It often surprises and always engrosses, and I was totally moved and swept away with Mara’s performance as the grieving girlfriend, M. There’s a scene part of the way in which is essentially a five-minute, one shot, one-take image of M gorging on a chocolate pie before throwing it up in a nearby bathroom – a scene which was surely a one-take affair and a stunning piece of work from the young performer. Not only is it heart-breaking and distressing, but it also so very powerful, especially looking beyond her at the image of a helpless onlooker lurking in the background.
A middle-section featuring a wider cast (including a very strangely placed appearance by pop star Keisha) develops the film into something completely different, Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography, in a rounded 1.33:1 aspect ratio, capturing everything so fluently. The soundtrack also dips in and out once again, Lowery once again drawing on a frequent collaborator Daniel Hart to provide the score, and also a Casey Affleck fronted track, “I Get Overwhelmed”. Again, it’s all so wonderful.
Its difficult to fault A Ghost Story because its so very well made, so original and so affecting in every way – it will linger in your mind for days after viewing it. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it – and that’s a very positive attribute. I wasn’t ready for it when I saw it, and I will never forget the experience of watching it for the first time.
All consuming, totally original indie cinemas that is far more than A Ghost Story – it’s an 87 minute journey into time, space and the depths of our universe. A near masterpiece and absolutely one of the best films of the year.
A Ghost Story review by Paul Heath, June 2017.
Currently playing at the Sydney Film Festival, A Ghost Story will be released in UK cinemas on August 11th, 2017.