A Ghost Story marks writer/director David Lowery’s return to Sundance after helming Disney’s Pete’s Dragon this past year. This film is about a couple that lives happily together until the husband dies in a car accident. At that point, the story turns into a science fiction movie, as the ghost of the husband becomes the main character of the film. What this film brings to the paranormal genre is the question: in a relationship in which one partner dies, which person becomes the more lonely victim: the widow or the ghost? Undoubtedly, this cinema vérité quasi-experimental film shot in a gorgeous 4:3 ratio will turn off a large portion of the audience who will not have the patience for the extremely meditative nature, but those who stick with this film until the end will be highly rewarded at the piecing together in the third act.
Before I dive into the review, allow me to address the elephant in the room: “Blake, why would you rate the film an 8+/10, yet give it a yellow recommendation?! That doesn’t make sense!” Well, I’ll explain that throughout this review, but just to get it out of the way, I’ll say that this film is NOT for everybody. As mentioned, it will turn off a lot of people and even I, while watching it, was surprised that I didn’t see people walk out during one scene. The scene I’m referring to is one in which Rooney Mara‘s character sits down and eats a pie for about four continuous and uninterrupted minutes; not zoom, no pan, not tilt, no cut, and no moving at all. It’s an excruciatingly boring scene, and I hardly ever use that term to describe movies (deliberately paced, maybe even slow), but this moving often bored me. That being said, this technique was entirely intentional to allow the audience to feel the depressing loneliness, desperation and disconnected lifestyle that the ghost is forced to live. It’s effective, if not exciting.
Rooney Mara really has a small part in the film, the story and the plot are almost all about Casey Affleck‘s “ghost” character. In the Q&A afterwards, cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo mentioned that the original script was only 26 pages long, and while watching, it’s easy to see because there are almost no lines of dialogue whatsoever. I mean, it’s like All Is Lost but with very few things actually happening. All of this plays into the very meditative and contemplative atmosphere since we’re meant to feel the emotions and mindset of a character who cannot talk and doesn’t really move or communicate in any way. Even in that way, this film is one of the most original that I’ve seen in a very long time; it adds a lot to the paranormal genre and takes it to places in story and style that I’ve never seen in my life.
Since not a lot happens, it’s hard to talk about the parts of the film that I really want to talk about (the ending), so I’ll just leave it by saying that the film wraps itself up beautifully in the final few minutes and makes me rethink the afterlife in some ways (not a religious person) because of how differently this film views it. It’s so smart and stylish, and it’s hard to take your eyes off of it, even for just how it looks. As mentioned, this film was shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio akin to old films of the 40’s and 50’s, even with the rounded corners, but with gorgeous colors than shone bright and took my breath away. This aesthetic paired with the very post-modernist plot and the contemporary pop song that works it’s way into the film was absolute perfection. In addition, the curved edges and the aspect ratio gave a me a feeling as if I didn’t belong and felt as though I was watching something from long ago; this out-of-time sensation is probably meant to give us the same feeling that the Ghost has since he is trapped in somewhere he feels he doesn’t belong. I mean, really, this film is amazing in just about every single thing that it does, and my only complaint is that it’s just a little (lot) slow at times. And the ending is so open-ended that it’s impossible for it not to provoke thought in it’s viewer’s minds.
Overall, A Ghost Story really was an amazing experience that made me wonder and ponder and although it’s very slow at times, I think the moviegoers that go in with an open mind and stick around until the end will get a better payoff than they could have expected. It’s not a movie for everybody, but those who like it will undoubtedly love it for what it is. There is a lot to love and a lot to take away, and I can’t wait to watch this film again and unpack all that it has to offer. As stated previously, I’m going to give A Ghost Story an 8+/10 but a yellow recommendation because those who have seen it will agree, this is NOT a film for everybody. People will hate it, but people will also love it…which group will you fall into? As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!