Some movies are really difficult to review. A Ghost Story is one of those movies. At the risk of driving readers away from my own review, I’d almost suggest not reading further until you’ve seen the movie. That being said, I’ll try to avoid anything that would be more of a spoiler than the blurb itself reveals.
Some films are so full of originality and daring, that you don’t know exactly what to make of them. A Ghost Story doesn’t follow most of the rules of what makes an exciting, engaging or popular film. It’s not so much about the ideas, but the execution. It’s an execution that seeks to put a new twist on ideas like grief, memory, time and the afterlife. Director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) has delivered a thoroughly difficult to describe experience. But if you give it the time to sink in, it is a also a thoroughly affecting one.
The film stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (also from his previous film) as a young couple working their way through life. However, when tragedy strikes, one of them is resigned to a ghostly existence, under a simple sheet (as you might notice in the trailer). From here, we make our way slowly and surely through a poetic meditation on grief. But not just from the perspective of the living. We also learn what it would be like to stand by and watch those you left behind grieve for you. It’s a heartbreaking experience.
Lowery moves us slowly and methodically, scene by scene, through his film. We learn that time is a little different for a ghost. We jump back and forth, skipping chunks of time as we please. Yet, the film makes a point not to rush. One particular scene, that I’ll simply call ‘the pie scene’ provides the best example of this. We simply sit back and watch Rooney Mara grieve, alone, in her kitchen. For six to seven minutes, A Ghost Story, just lets us watch. But the film’s power is when you realize that you shouldn’t be watching her. It’s the sight of the ghost, watching her, that is the most affecting. What a horrible fate that is.
There are moments when the film seems a little slow. Boring even. Especially early on. There’s very little dialogue. There’s long takes full of what seems like nothing. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s tough at times. But the more you watch, the more it sucks you in. It’s an investment, but for those that stick with it, it really pays off. By the stunning third act, I found myself engrossed. Heartbroken at times. Amazed at others. Hopeful then full of despair. All while a quiet sheet with eye-holes stands and watches.
I’d also be lying if I claimed to understand exactly what the film wants to say. There’s very little dialogue. There is one monologue near the middle of the film, from a character who only appears once. It gives us some idea of the themes held within the subtle delivery. But it doesn’t really unlock the answers. But there’s enough branches for us to form our own informed opinions. Act 1 and 2 present us with a more personal, human experience, while the latter portion of the film starts to up the scale a little and starts to delves into some larger, science fiction style concepts. It actually works really well.
All in all, there’s not much more to be said without ruining the experience. If you’ve read to the end I probably already did. But A Ghost Story is a movie that is worth watching, and has something to say. It’s not for everybody, and there will likely be many who absolutely hate it. But for those who don’t require answers, it can be an emotionally engaging experience. If nothing else, it will be unlike anything else you’ve seen. Often times, that alone makes a movie worth watching.
Movie Melt Score: 8/10