Film Review – A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story
Stories centering around the grieving process when facing loss have hit especially hard since the sudden death of my brother to cancer a year and a half back. (You’re now 2 for 2 making me cry in a theater, Affleck! Get a comedy under your belt just so I can breathe again.) In David Lowery‘s beautifully abstract and haunting A Ghost Story, we are presented numerous, ruminating scenes of devastation (and eventual acceptance) through an unlikely prism. And what threatens to be a glorified trip through Quirksville ends up being an incredibly powerful tale of love and loss.
Reuniting with his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (also directed by Lowery) cohort Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck stars as her doting musician husband. Or long-time boyfriend. The particulars aren’t integral, as our two leads aren’t even given names. We’re provided a handful of scenes early on showcasing their love, including an extended kissing scene the likes of which you don’t really see anymore. This all comes to a (pun) screeching halt after an off-screen car crash leads to his death. After a harrowing visit to the morgue to identify his body, Mara leaves only to be immediately followed home by his ghost. Embodied in only a sheet with holes cut out for eyes (think It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown), Affleck manages to emote credibly, sometimes with just a slight tilt of the head.
Being condemned to live post-eternity in his own house, Affleck’s ghost mostly stands in a corner and becomes a firsthand, unflinching witness to his love’s struggle to regain a sense of normalcy. One scene in particular is so audacious I went from loving it to kind of hating it and then back around to loving it again. In a nearly unbroken shot that lasts several silent minutes, Mara mindlessly devours an entire pie left by a sympathetic acquaintance before running to the toilet to throw it back up. Having only ever seen Lowery’s Disney-approved Pete’s Dragon prior to this, I was not prepared for such a challenging scene, nor the many others like it. Even at 93 minutes, this is a largely quiet movie that provides ample time for moments big and small. Mostly small.
Those hoping for a haunted house flick with prerequisite jump scares are probably better off catching the new Annabelle. While there are occasional light flickers and mysteriously crashing dishes, these are tellingly the least effective moments the film has to offer. A Ghost Story isn’t traditional, and just when you feel you’ve got the mechanics of it pegged, it takes another turn and makes you question everything you’ve seen up until that point. I will be careful not to reveal the bag of tricks Lowery offers an hour or so in, but it is among the most mesmerizing series of scenes I’ve encountered in recent memory.
A Ghost Story is a small-scale triumph likely to stick with you. You can never count on fully overcoming loss, but that doesn’t stop the world from moving on. With or without you.