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USA 2017
Directed by
David Lowery
87 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Ghost Story, A

Synopsis:  A thirty-something couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) live a quiet life on the edge of some small American town. One day he is killed in a car accident and both must come to terms with the loss.

Despite its title, A Ghost Story is not a horror film but rather an imaginatively-crafted meditation on life and death and the insubstantiality of all things. In a bold strategy writer-director David Lowery makes his ghost the classic haunted house bedsheet-with-eyeholes presence. The ghost is more haunted than haunting, however, eternally cut-off from the world that he knows so well and only able to express his frustration by causing electric lights to surge and crockery to fly across the room. That Lowery uses a nearly square film format like old Super-8 movies and keeps his camera largely immobile in the centre of the frame adds to the feeling of time out of joint. It sounds quite cornball but it works remarkably well because it is all done with such exquisite control (although if found the reference to Nietzsche a tad pretentious) with Daniel Hart’s music an important element in giving the contemplative story a sense of narrative momentum.  

The film depicts the passage of time with striking economy as the house acquires new occupants.  In one of these transitions Lowery nicely articulates his apologia on the impermanence of all things via one of the characters (singer-songwriter Will Oldham). Eventually the house is abandoned and demolished, an office block taking its place with the ghost wandering its airless corridors, a sequence which builds to a seeming climax of despair. Then, somewhat oddly, Lowery shifts time frame to pioneer days in what perhaps is intended to suggest that the ghost is not that of the Affleck character after all but rather that of some endlessly wandering soul, just one of the many such ghosts who long for real human companionship..

Affleck, who spends most of the time under a sheet (or at least we presume so) won’t be up for another Oscar but, perhaps with the enhancement of technological wizardry, we do get a real sense of the melancholy soul beneath the winding cloth. Mara who starred with Affleck in Lowery’s 2013 film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints really does not get to do much in a film which is unrelievedly downbeat.

Absence is constitutive of the human experience, whether simply as memory or a more palpable sense of loss: for a childhood pet, a dead friend or an unrequited love and so on. Indeed one might say that everyone’s life is in one sense a ghost story, This film captures this perspective with exceptional finesse. 

A Ghost Story is not a film that offers easy pleasures. Indeed in its early stages it is excruciatingly slow. But if you appreciate originality and fine craftsmanship it will be one to savour.   




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