Director: David Lowry Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara Runtime: 87 minutes
A Ghost Story plunges the depths of themes that most filmmakers have devoted their careers to exploring. The ambition and quiet confidence with which it delves into issues such as life, death, memory and time is, quite simply, something to be marvelled at and revered. While it may challenge some movie-goers, director David Lowry (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) has created a film that rewards those who are willing to listen and understand what it endeavours to explore: the enduring and resolute spirit of love in the face of significant loss. Make no mistake, A Ghost Story is 2017’s greatest film.
Our story finds its roots in Texan suburbia as a young couple (Affleck & Mara) adjust to their new home. While the house moans and creaks in the night, the true horror occurs after a tragic accident claims the man’s life, leaving his ghost to return to the hallways he once knew as home. Oblivious to his presence, the young woman attempts to adjust to her new life as her partner watches her every move.
If you’ve done your research (or if you’ve noticed the Scooby-Doo figure staring at you in the cover photo!), you’ll know that this simple story bears an element of absurdity. Our main character, namely Casey Affleck’s ghost figure ‘C’, haunts the house as a long, white bed sheet with cut out eye holes drapes over him. Although admittedly a ‘different’ way of illustrating the ghost character, this shouldn’t deter you. Ultimately, Lowry’s use of this simple yet striking image is there to pull you further into the story and seize your attention and interest.
At this point it is fair to say that some viewers will undoubtedly refuse to engage with the film under the belief that it is pretentious ‘arthouse’ fare. However, A Ghost Story is playing in a league of its own. While some art films opt for provocative imagery over narrative convention, Lowry fuses both in order to tell this simple yet unique story. This is, quite simply, a love story between two people who experience tragic loss.
Lowry’s world is captured through the academy ratio – a symmetrical aspect ratio with rounded edges. With less of the screen to cover, the director fills the space with striking visuals that mesmerize and enthral the viewer – the ghost’s white sheet becomes worn and faded as his journey continues, the dimly lit rooms of their home become more like prison cells, and our ghost sits idly in the corner as life goes on without him.
What impresses the most, however, could well be the way in which the film flows through years, as if they were seconds. The hard cuts and innovative editing approach allow the audience to travel with the ghost and experience the passing of time as he does, as he becomes less and less significant in a rapidly changing world. All of this is made even more impressive by the film’s soundtrack (written by frequent Lowry collaborator Daniel Hart), which mirrors the power, intensity and emotion of the film to produce the most affecting soundtrack you’ll hear all year.
There is no doubting the technical beauty of the film. However, as the old cliché goes, the true beauty of this piece comes from within. A Ghost Story isn’t afraid to ask its audience some of the biggest questions – What happens when we die? Will we be remembered? What does it mean to live? What happens when ‘time’ itself runs out? It never assumes to know the answers but has some interesting things to say, whether they come in the form of one character’s drunken philosophy or through following our ghost character as he weaves his way through time in search of the answers.
What David Lowry achieves here is remarkable. After the commercial and critical success of Pete’s Dragon, he could certainly have moved onto any large project he wanted. Instead, armed with roughly half the budget it took to make his feature debut (~$100,000), Lowry has crafted a film that masters daunting and complicated themes while still feeling intimate and personal. With uncompromising commitment to this personal story, the film still evokes something much larger, making for a profound, beautiful and haunting experience.
There’s no doubting that this film demands a certain audience, one that is willing to commit patience, silence and attention. Assuming you do so, A Ghost Story becomes a rewarding experience. This is modern storytelling at its most peculiar and finest, and something we should praise Lowry and A24 for bringing to our screens. Stick with it and it will stick with you long after the credits roll.(5 / 5)