A Ghost StorySundance London 2017
“Whatever hour you woke, there was another door shutting” – David Lowery borrows the opening line to Virginia Woolf’s short story A Haunted House (1921) as the epigraph to A Ghost Story. The film is a meditation on grief, time and place. The nuance between randomness and serendipity is up for interpretation.
Casey Affleck stars as the eponymous ghost who after dying suddenly in a car crash is condemned to haunt his wife, played by Rooney Mara, and the house they shared. The ghost is unfixed in time, forced to watch from despondent holes cut in a fraying white sheet as the world changes around him.
Is it a gimmick? Yes, is the short answer, but it is neither kitsch nor corny. One of the triumphs of A Ghost Story is its self-effacing wit, without which it would plunge into obscurity or worse, farce. In an incredibly sparing script Lowery manages to contour the action with sudden yet subtle shifts in tone. In the capable hands of Affleck and Mara – who reunite with each other and the director after appearing in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) – the acting is sublimely visceral.
Shrouding Affleck in a billowing sheet for the majority of the running time is one of many brave aesthetic decisions taken by Lowery. A Ghost Story is shot in 1:33 aspect ratio – a frame more readily associated with television screens than cinema. Rounded and softened corners create a vignette. The effect is a poignant contradiction; an aching, boundless, nostalgia for something lost coupled with an inescapable sense of entrapment.
Lowery’s sources of inspiration are diverse; he and Director of Photography Andrew Droz Palermo studied landscape photography as well as auteurs including Tsai Ming-Liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the avant-garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman. What these sources share is a preoccupation with physical landscapes, long static takes, and silence.
The significance of silence in this movie is, like many of its themes, duplicitous. Daniel Hart’s score is stunning, as is Lowery’s judgement of when to use it. While some scenes are cloaked in lingering silence others are transposed into pure poetry. Hart delivers a uniquely dexterous soundtrack, fluent in many different genres.
A Ghost Story is a peculiar and phenomenal film. It asks many questions, perhaps the most pertinent is when does watching become haunting? This is an enticing, haunting watch indeed.
A Ghost Story is released nationwide on 11th August 2017.
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Watch the trailer for A Ghost Story here: