‘A Ghost Story’ Review: Life After Death isn’t Very Exciting, and That’s the Point

If someone were to ask me what A Ghost Story is about, the simple answer would be, “Casey Affleck wanders around a house covered in a white sheet for 90 minutes.” However, much like its unconventional aspect ratio of 1.33:1, David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) has graced us with a film that transcends its boundaries. Would I recommend this film? Yes and no. It would depend on the person. Film, and art in general, is such a fickle thing; one man’s curse could be another man’s pleasure. A Ghost Story’s unique form of storytelling only makes the task ever more challenging, for it is nigh impossible to characterise as any one genre.

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a couple that are about to move houses when Affleck is killed in a car crash. Revived as a ghost, he is inexplicably drawn to his old home where he is cursed to haunt it for eternity. Affleck’s obsession mirrors Lowery’s, who seems intent on breaking as many stereotypes and conventions as possible. Traditional traits that we regularly associate with good films, i.e. character development, story arcs, multidimensional characters, etc., are thrown out like baggage onto the sidewalk. Even Affleck’s and Mara’s characters have letters of the alphabet in lieu of actual names (C and M). Instead, Lowery saddles us with a humanoid white sheet incapable of expressing facial expressions that spends 90% of the film either standing still or plodding along very, very slowly.

And I liked it.

Decidedly, as a ghost, C is less of an emotional character and more of a storytelling tool – a blank slate onto which the audience may project, as it were. Lowery uses C as a means to instigate several topics of discussion: nihilism, love, life, and maybe even life after life. However, while the film trusts its audience, perhaps its greatest downfall is not trusting them enough; in particular, a scene of heavy exposition undoes all the nuance and subtlety that came before it. The scene in question, while executed delightfully, was also conceptually poor.

The choice of aspect ratio, though peculiar, adds an element of intensity to the film, trapping its characters within a box. The pacing is slow – almost a crawl. The shots are long and the takes even longer, with minimal-to-no movement on-screen. One feels that Lowery is almost rebelling against the quick-cut editing so common in the films of today, intent on tricking audiences rather than challenging them to interpret the image on-screen for themselves. Indeed, the peculiarity of A Ghost Story is that it never tells you how to feel at any given moment; there is no melancholic score designed to incur sadness, no epic visual effects to awe audiences, not even an emotional high to wrap up the ending of the film. If one were to criticise modern Hollywood films for their emotional simplicity, then A Ghost Story is to be lauded simply for its unemotional complexity. 8.5/10.

***Many thanks to the Gulbenkian for providing me with complimentary tickets***

by Darren Chew


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