A Ghost Story

 

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No more tellingly adventurous a film is likely to appear this year.

 
Ghost Story, A

Casey Affleck, actually

 

In 2013 when we saw David Lowery's second feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints it was at once evident that he was a  distinctive independent  filmmaker of real talent, so it was surprising that he should next go to work for Disney on the new  version of Pete's Dragon. The fact that A Ghost Story finds him making a small work in Texas reuniting with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara suggests a return to the style of that second movie. But in the event A Ghost Story is much more than that. The phrase 'a screen original' usually means no more than a piece created directly for the cinema, but in the case of A Ghost Story it can be applied in a much more significant way to mean a film unlike any other ever made.

 

I was aware in advance that the stars would be seen as a couple in a modest suburb whose life is upturned when an accident brings about the man's death, after which he returns as a ghost. Consequently, I expected a tale of loss and grieving on the lines of the celebrated Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990). But A Ghost Story is far more innovative. On the narrative level it embraces the idea of showing the dead man in a form so prototypical that it has become a reductio ad absurdum: that is to say it dares to show him as a figure in a white shroud with holes for eyes that in fact reveal only black spaces. Furthermore, unlike that famous supernatural figure in 1933's The Invisible Man, this ghost cannot speak. Yet even more remarkable is the fact that the story is told from the viewpoint of the ghost as he haunts the couple's home long after it has changed hands. Indeed, he is still present after the building has been razed for development.

 

There's enough novelty in this approach for the film to risk seeming foolish from time to time and such touches as the presence briefly of a second ghost seem ill-judged (it leads to communication between these spirits being rendered in subtitles of unheard remarks!). Some may also dislike the stylised filmmaking which at times becomes minimalistic with long-held shots and also makes unusual play with focus. All this can make the art seem rather self-conscious, but the photography of Andrew Droz Palermo contributes to the film's effective sense of atmosphere as does the considered application on the soundtrack of music, natural sounds and, indeed, silence.

 

However, we soon come to realise that this is a film at once experimental and philosophical, a work about the nature of the universe and the meaning of life and death. It considers and questions how we often hang on to the past out of our deep desire to make our lives less ephemeral. Later on the film plays with time, something which in this kind of context is not entirely new (Interstellar comes to mind). More original is a key speech in a party scene which underlines the big questions being asked. Answers are not necessarily forthcoming (at times the film's own meaning becomes obscure) and the whole thing will infuriate some audiences. Nevertheless, it's a movie that you can't get out of your head and, despite the scale being so utterly different in a literal sense, the film most strongly evoked by A Ghost Story is Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. If ever a film were a clear candidate to become a cult movie, this is it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Kesha Sebert, Will Oldham, David Pink, David Lowery.

 

Dir David Lowery, Pro Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston and Adam Donaghey, Screenplay David Lowery, Ph Andrew Droz Palermo, Pro Des Jade Healy and Tom Walker, Ed David Lowery, Music Daniel Hart, Costumes Annell Brodeur.

 

Sailor Bear/Zero Trans Fat Productions/IdeaMan Studios-Picturehouse Entertainment.
92 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 11 August 2017. Cert. 12A.