Poor ghosts. Lately they’ve been getting a bad reputation in cinema largely due to their association with lazy generic horror films which focus on loud sound effects rather than genuine fear. Thankfully this isn’t the case with writer director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) who uses his spectral being not to evoke terror but as it means to explore a variety of themes such as loss, grief, loneliness, purpose, love, existence and more importantly time.
And my word does he do it beautifully. It is so refreshing to see in 2017 a plethora of original and unconventional films such as Get Out and more recently Baby Driver. A Ghost Story fits comfortably into that category. The focus here is on an unnamed couple played by this year’s Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars Casey Affleck and Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara, two performers which Lowery has worked with before in his 2013 crime flick Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. When we’re first introduced to the two we assume that everything is going to work out for them with Affleck excelling in his profession as a music producer. However, things take a sudden turn for the worst when he is tragically killed.
Yet, that’s not the end for him as he returns in the form of a ghost decorated in a bed sheet and with two large black eye-holes. In his new form he begins his quest back to Mara and to find the note she left in the house, an element sign-posted in the film’s opening scene. As far as plot goes, that’s pretty much it. Guy has to reach his significant other despite now being nothing more than a voyeur of her life. A simple and traditional plot. However, what I admired so much about this film was the way it managed to convey so much emotion and meaning through its imagery, without having to resort to dialogue. The film is roughly 90 minutes long but in the space of that time I would say that only 25% of the film features scenes of dialogue. And when it is used it doesn’t feel as though it is interrupting the moments of silence.
Another feature that I adored about this film was the cinematography. Huge shout-out to Andrew Droz Palermo because this is a beautiful looking film. There is a great choice of a colour palette here with mixes of grey, white and black – all which present the film as being both haunting and visually striking. I really do hope that the cinematography receives some sort of recognition at upcoming awards shows because there were times in which I was in awe at what I was looking at. What’s also visually appealing about the film is how Lowery choose to shoot the film in an aspect ratio of 1:33:1 which essentially allows the audience to feel as though they are trapped within the ghost’s endless cycle of eternity as he watches his lover from the afterlife.
Aside from all of the stunning imagery on display, the scenes of dialogue, albeit minimal, are also very effective. There is a great discussion at one point in the film about existence and making the most out of your time. For me personally it struck a chord, evoking some of the discussions and themes raised in Dead Poets Society and one of my all time favourite books Breath by Tim Winton. These scenes are short but they do leave an impact. Also the exchanges between Affleck and Mara are also beautifully and feel very authentic and natural. I ‘m curious to know if some of there scenes were scripted because the two of them work really well together.
If I were to have any issues with the film it would be that there are some scenes, and this is only a nitpick, that tend to drag on a bit. I understand that the message that Lowery is trying to get across is here is that sometimes you have to let the silence to the talking but they could have been cut by a couple of minutes. One scene with Mara in a kitchen eating a pie could easily have been trimmed down a bit. Nevertheless, A Ghost Story is fantastic film-making. Somehow Lowery has managed to combine traditional elements of storytelling and unconventional ones. The result is a charming little film that dares to tackle grand scale topics of debate. It succeeds in doing so and is strongly supported by its gorgeous visual imagery and its central performances. It was a film that I had to take sometime to think about before writing this review simply because I was so drawn into this world and fascinated by the questions it raised. Some over-extended scenes in which nothing happens aside, I was glad that I took the time to check this film out. Oh and don’t be fooled by the poster. A horror film this ain’t. And thank god for that. Sean Moriarty
Also a quick funny story. I went to go this film in a little cinema called the California Theatre which was about 15 minutes down the road from my house. After I paid for my ticket, my heart nearly jumped out of my stomach when I saw a mannequin with a sheet over it similar to the one worn by Affleck in the film quietly sitting across from me. It was both a terrifying and hilarious experience. I attached an image below to show you all what I’m talking about.