Review: A GHOST STORY Offers Top-Tier Existential Horror

David Lowery's much buzzed about spectral tale stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara

Contributing Writer; Melbourne, Australia (@Kwenton)
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Review: A GHOST STORY Offers Top-Tier Existential Horror

Expecting almost nothing from A Ghost Story was the best way to approach it, and this was the ethos that director David Lowery surely had in mind as he filmed it secretly over a three-month period. The only knowledge I did arm myself with then, was that it is a new Indie flick from the same guy that directed the boorish Aint Them Bodies Saints (this film also stars the same leads), and that it had garnered intriguing buzz since its Sundance Premiere.

The film turned out to be surprising in ways I could never expect. Through quietly devastating, morbidly creative and semi-nihilistic means it delivers a message that has resounded with me since viewing it. It is challenging to explain what that means exactly without spoiling what eventuates, but despite the cheesiness of the typical ghost in sheets, A Ghost Story grips you completely as it explores fresh ground in how it tackles mourning and losing a loved one.

It is M (Rooney Mara) that loses her partner C (Casey Affleck) when he is killed in a car accident minutes after the film begins. From this point, C awakens in a morgue, the clean white sheet M covers his head with now acts as his corporeal form, and never mind where he got the black holes as eyes from. Now a restless spirit the ghost wanders the Earth, arriving right back at his quiet country-suburban home, and from his point-of-view we witness life around him; but what is life to one who is dead?

This is a huge question, and one the film perilously explores both un-romantically and irreligious to the consequences of the very essence and nature of time itself. As such A Ghost Story, without clear structure explores the five stages of grief through the restless ghost.

We move quicker than expected from a five minute sequence of Rooney Mara wordlessly grief-eating a pie, to the house being occupied by other people entirely. Cornerstone to the whole concept is the grief the ghost feels, his reluctance to let go of her, the physical space they inhabited and the memories they shared (conveyed in sudden flashbacks). These things craft his wordless despair as he never checks the final note that M juts into the wall crack before painting over it.

A Ghost Story tries to depict the impossible in allowing the audience to witness time experienced outside of our realm and the sadness and burden the ghost carries with him. The completely mind-blowing editing conveys a spectral glance we could never fathom that covers days, months and years as time slips by and uncertain progress is made by the living.

A Ghost Story also lulls you into a false sense of security during these moments, one of which occurs when the ghost looks across to his former neighbor’s home and sees another ghost; they wave at each-other and subtitles appear on the screen. They say hi to each other in a casual way and the ghost asks what the other is doing. The ghost in the neighbour's abode states that it is waiting for someone, with the impression of a nagging and vague hope they might come home one day. It then turns slowly away from the ghost and, without any manipulation or film effect, you feel the quirky encounter's humorous tone replaced by an ultimate needless sadness.

There are other ways that the transcendental horror A Ghost Story surprises, but the beautiful mysteries and lingering drama is an experience best left for discovery of this eternal dilemma. A Ghost Story is a definite highlight of the year.

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a ghost storycasey affleckdavid loweryhorrorindependentindierooney marasundance

More about A Ghost Story

  • ManateeAdvocate

    Great to hear. I enjoyed Ain't Them Bodies Saints and this one looks intriguing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • cjohnston

    Damn (Apologies) Straight and I couldn't (..or could... ha.) Agree more...
    ..Lowery is EASILY one of the Best in the business...
    -
    ..this one's quite frankly one of my most hotly anticipated films of the year.. (Blade Runner2049) and (perhaps) oddly enough Atomic Blonde also being on that list.....).
    ~
    off on a (hopefully brief) and marginally) different topic.

    ..there's really only one other "user" besides Yourself out there that i've "sniffed" that has such freakishly similar tastes as i do..
    ....due to a change in jobs.. .....of late i haven't had chance to haunt these parts and locales quite as much..
    ..IF You are (remotely) Interested in this - - - here's a personal email of mine.. museuman@cox.net -- IF You are Interested and/or would like to converse and communicate on a separate/different platform.. I'd quite frankly LOVE (and again brief Apologies, ..no b.s. from this one) ~ I'd LOVE to Keep in contact with Ya. ....IF this is of Interest for You/ ..and/or If You are Comfortable with this..

    ..and - Seriously and quite Frankly; If not - that is Perfectly Cool and i would 100% Understand/Respect that decision..
    ~ ~ ~
    that. ..Plus. ..I'm Keenly Interested to hear Your thoughts on Logan, if You have seen it Yet..

  • ManateeAdvocate

    I'll send you an email, but I'll post this here for you to peruse at your leisure:

    I have indeed seen Logan, twice now as a matter of fact, and I was truly taken aback at how profoundly heartfelt and poignant it was. The first trailer really put me off as I was tired of Fox's inane attempts i.e. failures at portraying the X-Men universe as well as the fact that I absolutely LOATHE Johnny Cash's garbage cover of Trent Reznor's Hurt. So, yeah, suffice it to say I was not enticed by the initial trailer. Loved the look, but I was not optimistic and that song really soured my ability to see straight. Once the second trailer dropped I was on board.

    The film itself was one of the better westerns I've seen in all of my filmic journeys. Truly. I loved the Shane and Leon allusions. It was barely a X-Men movie if you get me. One need not know fuck all about the X-Men universe nor the histories of the characters represented therein as the film itself provided enough emotional resonance for anyone to become attached and enamored with the characters on the screen. Outlandishly deft performances by all parties and a grounded script depicting a crazy, yet believable world. Now, I've read some critiques that the clone was cheap and he should have battled Victor Creed (Sabretooth) at the conclusion to which I disagree wholeheartedly. X-24 made perfect sense since the audience was just introduced to X-23 and the Weapon X program was still in full effect. Having Creed in the film would have ruined it. This story was about Logan finding redemption, not battling a foil from days of yore.

    Logan is the type of film that I really glom on to. I like depressing, ugly cry films quite a bit and Logan provided on all levels for me. I believe Patrick Stewart gave one of his best performances ever as did Jackman.

    It's a powerhouse film and one of the jewels of my collection. Yeah, I really love that film. However, if memory serves, you proclaimed that it was the best comic book film that you've ever seen. I shan't disagree. It's not my favorite comic book film, per se, but it's certainly in the top 5 or 10. I think Dredd is amazing, as is The Rocketeer, The Crow and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that's just me.

    Bottom line: Logan was Grade A entertainment from an industry I'm continuing to lose faith in on a yearly basis.

  • cjohnston

    ".......like, an up-vote was (even) needed.......".....
    .h-ahh..

  • Rage72

    I agree with you on Logan, it was Grade A! I wanted to talk about when you mentioned about Logan fighting his earlier self(X-24), which was the highlight of the film in many opinions, and I've also heard how some people would've rather seen him fighting for his life against Sabertooth. If Sabertooth, had been in the film, I'd rather he'd put aside his differences and fought alongside Logan, against the weapon X program... What I really would have loved, was if instead of Logan fighting basically his younger cloned self, he would have squared off against the short, muscular-stout, crazed Wolverine from the comics, just to put to rest the whole argument about Hugh being cast from the beginning lol! But that would've been a casting agent's nightmare trying to find an actor with the proper height and build.

  • cjohnston

    In the strict sense of "super-hero" --- Logan is now in a dead heat with Dredd for my favorite comic book film.. .....ever..
    *with Man of Steel in the same building - but maybe a few floors down..

  • Ben Umstead

    Readers as friends -- love it!

  • cjohnston

    *that - alternative for communicae as it were - is Also Completely Open to those others --- much like Yourself ~ as a(n alternative) way to converse..
    .....IF - this is (ever) of valid/pertinent/ ..applicable Interest..

  • cjohnston

    - and (generically speaking) ~ I ask --- *to no one in particular ~ ~ WHY NOT. ....? .!
    **pounds fist on table..
    - - -
    *now, Please go get an aspirin or something before my typing gives You (or anyone else unfortunate enough to read this) a seizure..... lol.lol

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