Sundance London: A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story
Directed by David Lowery
Starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky and Liz Franke
Screening at Sundance London June 4th, 2017
In UK cinemas August 11th, 2017
Watch on iTunes (US)

by Joanna Orland

It’s impossible to avoid the pun of ‘haunting’ when describing David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. It’s a film that gets under your skin and truly affects you through its mesmerizing premise and eerie execution. Eccentric ideas are explored through abstract passages of time, minimal dialogue and unearthly music which all fully immerse you in this tragic tale. With a title that should really include an ‘apostrophe’ and an ‘s’, this story of a ghost’s journey in the afterlife, from the ghost’s perspective, is fresh and fascinating.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play unnamed lovers. They are planning their lives together when tragedy strikes and Casey is killed in a car accident. Rooney visits his corpse in the morgue and tenderly covers his body with a sheet. Casey’s ghost rises from under the sheet, never removing the sheet, the sheet is Casey, Casey is the sheet. This remains true throughout the film – in the world that Lowery has created, ghosts wear sheets! It seems absurd, childish even, but somehow Lowery makes it work and absolutely owns this idea. I suppose it helps that Casey’s spirit awakens from under the sheet, helping to justify the visual motif, but somehow this sheet gives the film a heightened surreal element to it and once you get over the laughableness of the idea, it’s actually quite clever – the audience can project their own emotions and ideas onto the character as without a human element to it, it is literally a blank sheet. And also, Lowery doesn’t have to pay Casey a hefty salary – there’s no way he’s under that sheet the entire time!

The cinematography is also key in immersing the audience in this story; shot in 4:3 ratio with a vintage-look to its colour palette, it almost feels as if you’re watching someone’s home movie, heightening the intimacy of this story. With a Malick-inspired style, Lowery’s storytelling skills rely very little on dialogue. Using raw emotion in scenes such as Rooney dealing with her grief through the consumption of a pie – a whole pie in one long, uncomfortable unedited scene – the audience feels what this story is about and does not need to be told. It is a heartbreaking watch, but there is something beautiful in its sadness.

Casey’s ghost leaves the morgue and wanders to the home he shares with Rooney, to be forever condemned to lurking there, watching. Time passes, Rooney leaves, others arrive, the ghost is trapped, waiting, longing for Rooney’s return. Now if you’ve ever seen a movie with a twist, you’ll find it obvious from the start where this film is headed, but it is quite the payoff nonetheless. The film’s only fault is an intended red herring in the middle to throw you off the scent – it is so painfully a red herring that it weakens the movie as a whole. Ignore it and just pay attention to the ghost.

As much as I loved this film, I can honestly say it is not for everyone. Its abstract approach and juvenile appearance of ghosts may be a deterrent for some. But it’s their loss. I felt joy, sadness and a sense of wonderment. A Ghost Story is a truly unique and beautiful film!



 

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