Review: A GHOST STORY Offers Top-Tier Existential Horror
David Lowery's much buzzed about spectral tale stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara
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.