Written and Directed by David Lowery
Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara
Film Review by Hannah Sayer
A Ghost Story marks an exciting reunion for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director David Lowery and actors Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Lowery explored the lyrical and the evocative in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and these ideas are developed to become deeper and more profound in A Ghost Story, as the meaning as to why we’re all here is explored. The narrative follows a relationship that transcends time and the film becomes a reflective meditation on grief and loss. Before A Ghost Story premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, A24 had already acquired the anticipated film’s rights. The film was shot in Texas in secret and made from funds acquired from Lowery’s previous film, the summer blockbuster Pete’s Dragon. From big budget box office success to indie experimental drama, Lowery is showcasing his range across the medium of filmmaking and is living proof that the independent film scene is still thriving.
A Ghost Story opens with a quote from Virginia Woolf’s short story ‘Haunted House’: “Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting.” It is important, however, not to expect a horror film from this cinematic experience. A Ghost Story is arguably more intelligent than the average horror film; it is about a haunting but it is also about the people who live through this experience and their emotions. The end result is far from scary but it’s the ambiguity and the enormity of the subject matter which challenges the viewer’s expectations of what a ghost story can be. The viewer doesn’t learn the names of the characters in the film yet the credits inform us that Casey Affleck is playing C and Rooney Mara is M. A Ghost Story follows this couple as they move into a new home and the introduction to the story leads the viewer to believe they are about to witness a traditional haunted house ghost story, as the couple are awoken in the night when they hear their piano being played.
The viewer then observes, like voyeurs in a way which is mirrored through the ghost becoming a voyeur later on in the film, the couple’s relationship up to the quietly climactic moment when C dies in a car crash off screen. C then returns as a ghost in search of his love and there is little explanation given as to why or how the ghost appears. We only see the ghost interacting when it is with another ghost in the house next door and M is unable to see the ghost. When the ghost appears, it begins to watch M mourning and the space inhabits the unimaginable grief and loss. Over time, M moves out of the house and moves on from the tragedy while the ghost of C is left behind waiting for her to return. More ensues, but it is more worthwhile knowing as little as possible about what is left to unfold. Lowery succeeds in making the audience curious witnesses to the tragedy as we continue waiting to find out what and why this has happened. The running time of the film is just short of 90 minutes subject matter feels enormous and the weight of its haunting nature is astonishing.
The chemistry between Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck is wonderful in the opening scenes of the film and it is undeniably a treat to see these actors on screen together. Casey previously perfected the role of a man in devastating circumstances in his Academy Award winning performance in Manchester by the Sea and he continues this trend with his performance as the lonely ghost unable to connect with his love. His role in A Ghost Story is surreal in that it should be comedically absurd and it shouldn’t work, yet the ghost transcends merely being Casey Affleck wearing a sheet to become a living presence and a character that the viewer begins to feel for and sympathise with. The breathtaking shots captured by cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo are effective in establishing the dreamy aesthetic of the piece. The quietness of the landscape is captured, with the cinematography feeling alive even when the setting and overall tone of the film is muted. The film is shot in an intimate 4:3 aspect ratio which is nearly square in its overall effect and it’s shot at a distance, apart from some important close up shots. The moments when close ups are used are memorable, in particular a moment where Rooney listens to music and the camera lingers on a face as she takes it all in. Nearly a whole four minutes is spent on a single scene where Rooney’s character eats a whole pie and these minute moments allow for the film to hone in effectively on moments of grief. The shot lingers as the ghost watches her eat the pie from the corner of the room and the atmosphere evoked from her not knowing that the ghost is watching is chilling.
A Ghost Story is unlike any other cinematic experience to be had this summer. It is inventive, unique and contemplative and its release couldn’t be more timely in a summer filled with rehashed franchises and blockbusters. A Ghost Story is nothing short of Lowery’s masterpiece.
A Ghost Story is released in cinemas on 11th August.