A Ghost Story
Directed by: David Lowery
Written by: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara
Much like the titular ghost himself, A Ghost Story will haunt your thoughts long after you leave the theatre… You might forget it’s there, but it’ll linger. It stays with you, and not in the typical haunted house, jump scare, poltergeist flick kind of way — that’s not what this film is– but more out of the sheer beauty and poignancy that this film delivers.
It’s about love, loss, grief, and time. It’s about life and death and the fine cracks that lies between. It’s about remembering and forgetting. Clinging to the past and moving on. It’s about a lot of things in a very unconventional way, yet still every bit as gripping as it is profound.
David Lowery (PETE’S DRAGON) was able to do all these things in a story about a loving, but strained couple, C (Casey Affleck) & M (Rooney Mara), whose lives get torn apart when C dies in an accident.
There’s no real spoiler there, because most of the film involves C being a silent ghost that just lurks in his former home as time shifts and people change, reliving his past and desperately waiting and looking for… Something.
It’s supernatural arthouse at its finest.The choices that Lowery makes sound bizarre at first, but when actualized on film, are absolutely brilliant. The entire film is shot in a 1:33 aspect ratio, essentially a box frame. Which is perfect, because it really sells that claustrophobic trapped feeling. You’re boxed in watching a ghost watching people. You’re a voyeur to a voyeur. You can’t really move around the frame with your eyes because you’re essentially seeing the whole frame the whole time. When other filmmakers are going full on extreme wide screen, or Imax 3D, Lowery uses one of the oldest formats of filmmaking and conveys more of an impact with it than most Hollywood fare.
Which brings us to the ghost itself, depicted as the classic cartoonish image of a ghost… A white sheet with two holes for eyes. The reasoning behind it makes sense, and really morbid when thinking back to all those ghost kids running around during Halloween… But I digress, this ghost is just a bedsheet.
One would think it’s ridiculous and comical, and it is at first, but pretty soon it’s actually quite effective on screen. You really feel for that disheveled piece of bedding, even though it’s mostly motionless throughout the film. And voiceless, too, because the ghost doesn’t speak. There’s the odd subtitle here and there, and only when the ghost encounters another ghost, but even then it’s very short and brief. Yet, you still really feel the pain behind their dark hollow eyes. There’s an otherworldly presence to it, as it just stands in the frame waiting for eternity.
At one point the ghost is enraged and frustrated, and starts taking it out on various kitchen dishes, much to the surprise of the occupants, and what would have been a terrifying scene in a paranormal activity or poltergeist clone, comes across as very tragic and sad. You don’t fear for the occupants, you feel for the ghost.
That’s not to say the human characters don’t have their fare share of emotional resonance. At one point M channels her grief into stress eating pie, in an extremely long scene that seems to be talked about just as much as that ghost costume. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. It’s equal parts awkward and compelling, and full of such pathos and sadness. You feel uncomfortable, which is important, because that’s exactly what M is feeling. There’s a lot of long uninterrupted takes, like that one, in this film that go on well past when you’d expect them to end. And yet, it totally works. This film has that kind of Lynchian vibe at times, and always in the very best of ways, but this film really carves out its own path.
There’s other things I’d get into, like the beautiful and heart wrenching score by Daniel Hart, the perfect sound design, the gorgeous cinematography and framing, how the passage of time is dealt with within the story, the clever ways that Lowery deals with flashbacks, the sad but heartbreakingly funny other ghost character, the plot device involving notes, and the whole theme of not wanting to move on… but those are things that should be experienced before being discussed. Watch it instead of reading about it.
It’s a very moving and beautifully deep film that I’m still thinking of and figuring out. It’s definitely not your standard ghost story, and that’s exactly why you should see it.
A Ghost Story is playing today at 7:15pm at Fantasia Fest, and opens on August 4th in Montreal.
Fantasia runs through until August 2nd. Tickets are available online and at the box office.