Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Reel Review: A GHOST STORY

In the hands of a lesser director, the idea behind A GHOST STORY would turn into a laughable parody of a film. After all, the main character/lead actor spends 95% of his screen-time under a sheet, hardly ever speaks, and overall seems like a sketch for a late-night TV show. The trick to making this a treat is to give it meaning, and director David Lowery gives us much, much more than we can ever expect.

A young couple (un-named in the film, but credited as C and M, played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, respectively), has their marriage cut short when C is killed in a car accident right outside of their home.  C rises from his morgue slab with his bedsheet, which becomes his shroud, and spends an eternity silently watching his wife at their home.

A GHOST STORY does not seem to have much by way of plot. There is no stated goal or endgame for C to strive for, as the idea of death is being treated just as it should be-a mystery. The majority of the film, in its unconventional structure, involves the spectral C quietly observing M as she struggles with her grief. Time passes in a blink for the audience, but for C there are years that pass as he his trapped in some sort of eternal limbo. Things advance greatly when M moves out of the house, and C is left to linger all on his own…unable to let go, and he eventually drives new home owners away by way of hauntings. It’s a story about not letting things go, and the sense of profound loneliness hangs over the film like a cloud.

Writer and director David Lowery has some big ideas going on here about eternity, and although the film never gets bogged down in rules, it clearly establishes its own concept of limbo. Decades pass and C has to watch his old home get demolished and an entire city built on its location, and he later finds a way to bring himself back to horse-and-buggy times, long before his home is built…where he sits and waits until time catches up with him and he finds himself again in present times. It’s a mind-bending concept at work, and although the idea of eternity is too big for the human mind to understand, A GHOST STORY somehow makes it tangible.

Lowery’s slow-paced style gives the film an atmosphere that is mesmerizing. There are many long, unbroken takes which are so gripping that we are jarred when the picture finally does cut away, and many shots linger on long after we expect them to end. The simple imagery of the ghost; a man under a sheet, awakens our inner and long-dormant idea of what a ghost looks like; that old image which was burned into our minds as children. Dialogue in the film is kept to an absolute minimum (there can’t be any more than 20 minutes of spoken words), and Daniel Hart’s score is powerful and moving. Lowery also shoots the film in an old 4:3 frame with rounded corners, giving the characters and their world a “boxed-in” feel. The photography is stunning, and the shots of the ghosts (there are more than one) are so convincing they are hard to forget.

With so little dialogue, the cast is required to get their point across in other ways besides speaking. Rooney Mara goes through many emotions and shows them all in her face and eyes. Casey Affleck’s eyes are never seen through the blackened (and un-nerving) eyeholes, so he uses some effective body language to give his death-shrouded character personality. It’s a miracle how well it works. When Affleck and Mara do share the screen together, the chemistry is definitely there; having both worked with Lowery before (AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS in 2013). Will Oldham drops in as a thirty-something drunken loudmouth who eventually buys the house and plays his part very well.

A GHOST STORY is less of a horror flick and more of a profound idea on what the afterlife is like (although there are some great scares and several creepy and uncomfortable moments), and David Lowery presents it so well, we have to wonder if he knows more about the other side than the average mortal. Pardon the pun, but A GHOST STORY is a film that will haunt us long after the credits are done, and will have us looking over our shoulders wondering if a departed loved one is still hanging around; waiting, watching, and wondering. This is an unforgettable experience.


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