A Ghost Story: Film Review

Wyndham Hacket Pain @WyndhamHP

A Ghost Story follows Casey Affleck, an independent musician, and his wife Rooney Mara who live together in a small suburban house. They have an ordinary life and are a very normal couple until one day Affleck is killed in a car crash outside their home. While lying dead in hospital Affleck rises from a clinic bed and walks out underneath a bed sheet. After Mara moves out of the house, the ghost is left to witness the inhabitants that live there until it is finally demolished.

The criticism previously laid at director David Lowery is that he is a mimic and that he does not bring enough original elements to his work. This was definitely the case with his first two films St. Nick and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints which was seen as too similar to Terrence Mallik’s Badlands, as well as the original Bonnie & Clyde. It would be unfair if the same claims were made about his latest film, even though I would be surprised if Andrei Tarkovsky was not a stylistic and thematic influence.

The visual style and colour pallet is definitely reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Solaris. Like Tarkovsky, Lowery understands the emotive power of imagery and the cinematic form. The comparisons do not stop there with Lowery equally interested in the metaphysical as the great Russian filmmaker. Almost everything in the film is unexplained, from the lack of names for the characters to the apparition at the stories centre. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Lowery has produced a film as profound as Tarkovsky but A Ghost Story is still a striking and compelling work.

There is something captivating about the simplicity of the film. Everything is very low tech. Nearly every scene takes place in a small house and the ghost costume is no more than a bed sheet – a concept utilised by children every Halloween. There are very few special effects, with a brilliant score by Daniel Hart filling in the gaps left by the lack of dialogue.

The camerawork is also very simple, with long takes and deliberate camera movement that make us as an audience very aware of time and how it passes. It is no more obvious than when the camera sits stationary watching Rooney Mara eat a chocolate pie for seven minutes. Where most directors try to hide time and immerse us to the extent that we do not realise that it is passing, Lowery makes its passing feel painful and tragic.

At its centre A Ghost Story is a contemplation on loss and existence from the perspective of the deceased, left forever to consider what they have left behind. Those who survive have a chance to overcome loss, while the dead will always be defined by it. There is something heart-breaking about seeing Mara leave the house and move on with her life without Affleck who is left alone forever, unable to make any new connections.

With its loose ended nature I do wonder if A Ghost Story is a film that you can talk into being better than it actually is, with the lack of obvious answers resulting in unlimited interpretations and meanings. This is of course an unfair criticism that is probably more a reflection of the current state of film and Lowery should be commended for producing a work that encourages discussion and does not give us easy and unsatisfying answers.

A Ghost Story is a visually beautiful and affecting meditation on loss, grief, and time. There are a couple moments when it can be slightly inert but overall it is a captivating viewing experience.

A Ghost Story is in cinemas from Friday 11th August.


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