Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Producer: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey
Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Liz Cardenas Franke, Sonia Acevedo, Carlos Fabian Bermudez, Yasmina Gutierrez, Will Oldham, Brea Grant, Kesha Sebert
After an accident leaves his wife a widow, a man’s ghost explores his relationship through the history of the house where they lived together.
“A Ghost Story” epitomizes the A24 aesthetic. A vague Virginia Woolf quote opens the film. Rounded edges on a 1.33:1 frame add a vintage home movie veneer. The two main characters have only letters for names. Pop music celebrity Kesha cameos as an inconsequential extra. Then there is the core gimmick of putting an Oscar-winning actor under a sheet where he can be neither seen nor heard for most of the movie.
In other words, it’s the pinnacle of turgid cinematic pretension, hitting all the signature hallmarks of arthouse auteur experimentation that critics go gaga over while average audiences sigh with bored annoyance.
And who can blame either group for their reactions? Thematic vacancies invite introspective interpretation on academic as well as theological spectrums, allowing personal explorations to project deeper meanings unique to each viewer. Concurrently, the entire setup can feel like a sham, as though the filmmakers are getting away with cheap production design and a criminally sparse speck of story under an artifice of being existentially enlightening.
C and M, a couple so nondescript it makes perfect sense why they don’t earn full names, are supposed to be in the midst of a move out of their serene countryside home. Instead, M is forced into mourning when a car accident prematurely snatches C’s life.
After M identifies the body, C’s ghost takes shape from his morgue drapery, complete with two cutout eyeholes readymade to wait for the Great Pumpkin with the Peanuts gang. C makes his way back to the house where he begins a sped-up timeline of watching M adjust to life without him before bearing silent witness to a series of other occupants cycling through the home.
What is C ultimately waiting to have happen? That’s for the movie to not necessarily know and for you to possibly figure out on your own.
Writer/director David Lowery’s film is conceptually intriguing in principle, with that principle being focused ambiguity considered bold for bucking mainstream movie conventions. Its atypical approach is also contextually unrewarding in execution, offering frustratingly little substance to feed overlong, lingering shots on maudlin or mundane inaction.
Does “A Ghost Story” need all 120 seconds of M dragging discarded furniture to the curb for disposal, or could it convey the same nuance with maybe a minute and a half less? How about the eight-minute sequence consisting of just two shots where M gorges on her grief by overeating a pie until she pukes? Emotion is meant to be inferred by the way sheeted C stands solemnly in observation, torturing the viewer to mirror M’s cracked soul, though Spartan staging could not be any less intimate what with how distant the camera is from M’s profile.
Resultantly, stretches of prolonged quiet and patience-taxing inertia only pay dividends according to what one personally invests in the content. My own opinion evolved from a downward thumb to ambivalent indifference because the sentimental conclusion admittedly manipulated my emotions through swelling music and imagery tugging at touchstone memories. However, I can’t pinpoint exactly how this happened or why, other than to acknowledge it came mostly from me rather than from the movie. Beyond that, “A Ghost Story” doesn’t inspire digging deeper to identify its influence or evaluate potential artistic value.
If it didn’t have two big stars and the clout of an A24 banner, I doubt people would pay one-tenth of the attention given to “A Ghost Story.” Allow more time for the realization to dawn that the movie’s atmospheric tone evaporates from the immediate mind as opposed to sinking into the psyche for longer contemplation. I wouldn’t dare deem anyone’s positive association with the film to be insincere, yet I remain suspicious of “A Ghost Story” truly being the affecting movie many claim it is.
Review Score: 50