Writer: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham
Running time: 92mins
What’s the story: “C” (Affleck) and “M” (Mara) are a typical young couple, bickering, making up, and preparing to move out of their suburban bungalow. Suddenly, “C” is killed. But, he returns to their residence as a ghost, unable to forget M.
What’s the verdict: Easy to see why A Ghost Story has garnered 5-star-transcendental-experience reviews. As easy to see why it’s leaving others crying “Emperor’s new bedsheet!”
Much like Affleck for most of this movie, A Ghost Story is a white canvas upon which to project your own emotions. If you’ve recently suffered a break-up or worse, David Lowery’s singular movie may knock you on your profundity.
If you’re hungry you may love or hate the already (in)famous scene in which M grief-gobbles a homemade fruit pie. For seven minutes.
But, if things are ticking along fine, it’s best to view A Ghost Story as a diverting formal experiment. An interesting use of hokey horror imagery for an epic meditation on time and acceptance. All done in a nicely disciplined 92 minutes, shot in a suitably claustrophobic 4:3 ratio.
Playing like Patrick Swayze’s Ghost if Terrence Malick had got the gig (vintage Malick mind, not recent terrible Terry), this is not The Conjuring.
Lowery throws out moments of eeriness as odd noises intrigue C and freak out M. He makes room for a brief poltergeist tantrum. But, most unnerving are the near voyeuristic, locked-off shots observing C and M simply being in their relationship.
With dialogue at an amount that makes Dunkirk look like a Tarantino movie, you must succumb to the film’s quiet pacing. But, patience brings rewards.
Time moves in bold fits and flurries, the bungalow changing hands in a single shot while C stands distracted by memories. As the film progresses, its temporal ambition (hinted at in a scene with singer Will Oldham as a philosophical party bore) becomes ever more impressive.
And amidst the muted melancholy, Lowery allows a little humour to shine through. C befriends the ghost across the street (or should that be sheet?), their silent conversation conveyed through amusingly matter-of-fact subtitles.
Affleck and Mara (paired previously by Lowery on the Malick inflected Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are great, in deceptively difficult roles. Affleck makes a good physical presence under the sheet, delivering a performance much the same way Michael Fassbender did in Frank. Mara, whose beauty is best described as ethereal, conveys a range of emotion through her clenched jaw (and angry chewing of that pie).
A Ghost Story is an apt title: it’s central character is as much haunted as haunter. A Ghost Story is a deceptive title: the Blumhouse brigade will be rattling their chains in anger. A Ghost Story is very much its own thing.