A Ghost Story
In A Ghost Story, writer/director David Lowery hopscotches back to indie filmmaking after summer 2016’s lackluster Pete’s Dragon, reuniting his mumbly, low-budget Ain’t Them Bodies Saints co-stars Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in the process.
As was the case with those prior films, it’s again difficult to fault Lowery’s skills as a technician, and for well over an hour he seems destined to join the ranks of Ana Lily Amirpour (The Bad Batch) and Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night) as visual masters with shaky grasps on narrative, character and pacing.
Shot in the boxy academy ratio for no thematically relevant reason, the meditation on loss and human connection to people, places, and things is often dopey and frustrating in a blatant Malick knock-off way as a combination of excruciatingly long and frustratingly short domestic scenes of the co-leads fails to make them endearing.
Once Affleck’s character dies and A Ghost Story makes good on its title, resurrecting him as a specter beneath a bed sheet with eyeholes cut out, the film veers even more wildly out of control as the walking, last-minute Halloween costume watches his still living love cope with his absence.
Taking into account that grief is a supremely subjective experience, Mara’s actions nonetheless range from clichéd to — in the case of eating an entire pie over the course of two cuts — borderline laughable. (For a far more fascinating and entertaining example of sudden gluttony, see Joshua Burge down a full plate of spaghetti and mammoth meatballs in Buzzard — in a single take, no less.)
While much of this stretch falls under the “endurance test” heading, Lowery offers a flash of brilliance in a montage of Mara leaving the house three different times within the same take while the ghost watches.
Otherwise, viewers are left weathering laughably pretentious dialogue (delivered via subtitles) as Affleck’s spirit communicates with a fellow sheeted presence in a neighboring house and a string of empty encounters as new tenants set up shop in a space he’s unable to leave, culminating in an eye-roll-inducing monologue by musician Will Oldham that belongs on the cutting room floor. (Perhaps the undead spliced it back in?)
Mind-numbing as the majority of A Ghost Story is, when Lowery at last shows his true narrative intentions, one grows to respect — though not quite cherish — the events that have come before, seeing them from a new perspective (sometimes literally).
The sense of completion and delayed soulful gratification makes his latest work easily his best to date, though based on the sample size, that’s not saying much.
Grade: C-plus. Rated R. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo by Bret Curry, courtesy of A24)