This is going to be one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write for this blog because I genuinely don’t know my full thoughts on this film. A Ghost Story is a film that burrows into your mind and leaves ideas in there that will never leave you. These ideas and the way they are presented make A Ghost Story a fascinating film but one where I don’t know whether I’d recommend it to anyone and going into detail about the plot would destroy the unique power that A Ghost Story has. This is going to be one of my less informative reviews as a result but I don’t want to spoil A Ghost Story for you in a way that hasn’t already been revealed in the trailers.The film focuses on C, an aspiring musician who, after hearing noise in the house he shares with his girlfriend, M, is killed in a car accident just outside his home. In the morgue, C’s ghost awakens, taking the form of a sheet with eyeholes in it, the stereotypical form of a ghost in children’s stories, and begins haunting the house he lived in with M over the years. Now that’s about as much as I want to say about the plot, and it’s really all I can say, this isn’t a film where the plot is the focus, the tone of the film is much more important. Throughout the film we get notions regarding how grief manifest in people, how meaning is attached to sounds and physical objects, creating a tactile quality for memories, and going into the whole nature of human existence and time. There’s also a bit of focus on the memories held by place, how a singular place can transcend the lives of the people who live in it and can encompass the whole nature of the human experience, with different cultures, languages and experiences being captured within a certain place, with these experiences always having some form of legacy within the site, even if the physical environment the experiences were in has been destroyed. There are also fascinating elements regarding selective memory, which is capitalised upon by the excellent editing in the film, with the earlier portions of the film being more idealised and the later portions containing more of the reality and context for the earlier scenes, showing the elements that we want to forget and how these memories last just as long as the positive ones.
The performances meanwhile add to the thematic weight of the film. Casey Affleck has one of the most challenging acting experiences that anyone would face throughout the year, having to act with a sheet over him, restricting his movement and making it so we cannot see his facial expressions, or even have him speak throughout the film. Every single element of the character of C is conveyed through the most subtle movements from Affleck, most notably subtle movements to indicate anger and jealousy, whilst the more static nature of Affleck’s performance helps with the themes of the theme with the spectre of memory being present in every scene. Rooney Mara as M gives another excellent performance, with her character being given scenes that, in the hands of a lesser performer, would have made the film unbearable to watch. The most famous of these scenes being when her character eats a whole pie whilst C’s ghost stands over her. The way this scene is framed and Mara’s performance make what could be a boring or comedic scene in lesser hands a heartbreaking scene about the need to drown out grief in any form that you can whilst the shadow of grief is watching over you, it’s a beautifully handled scene, with the subtle actions of Mara helping to give the scene its power.
On a technical level, David Lowery and his team continue their impressive track record in the films they make. The most obvious success is the design of the ghost itself. The way the costume is designed both invokes the traditional imagery of ghosts and creates a sense of haunting beauty, the way the ghost is framed throughout the film giving the ghost a real sense of presence. Praise also has to go to the music for helping to establish the tone of the film, the cinematography and editing, with the use of long, slow takes giving the film a melancholic feel, along with clever use of doubles being used in some shots to indicate the passage of time without cutting from one static shot. The sound design meanwhile adds to the melancholic feel of the film, especially near the end, along with creating a sense of mystery at the start of the film, tying into the ending, helping the film with its emotional power.
I can’t say that anyone who is reading this review will like A Ghost Story, in fact I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who go to see it are going to hate it. It’s a slow burning film, but this slow pace allows for a sense of melancholy and grief to be felt throughout the film, whilst also allowing David Lowery to explores themes regarding the whole nature of the human experience and how it transcends time but remains focused on place. This is a film that will stay with you long after you watch it and, the more I think about it, especially as I’ve been writing this review, the more I appreciate and respect what David Lowery was doing with this film.
My Rating: 5/5