Movie Review : A Ghost Story (2017)
The ultimate objective of any artist/storyteller is to create something that has meaning. A work of art that will outlive them because other people will carry it in their hearts and passionately introduce to newer generations as something immortal and universal. Some are trying way too hard at that. David Lowery's previous movie Ain't Them Bodies Saints obviously tried to do that, but didn't have its own "thing" to be remembered by. It was a movie inspired by a meaningful movie.
Well, I'm glad to announced that David Lowery has finally hit the mark. His latest creation A Ghost Story, which I have been meaning to watch since it hit theaters, is original, haunting, low-key beautiful and... it perhaps is the best movie I've seen since Nicolas Winding Refn's face melter The Neon Demon. How did it happen exactly? How did David Lowery went from pretender to champion with one movie? Bear with me, I'll get into that.
A Ghost Story is a really simple movie. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara form a couple. Their characters don't really have names or at least, I don't think so. They're childless and really in love, he's a musician and she's... I don't know what she is. When Casey Affleck's character dies in a car accident, he rises from the dead and becomes a ghost. A literal Halloween ghost with a sheet on his head. He refuses to walk into the light and goes back home instead, to presumably look after his grief-stricken girlfriend. Or is the house simply a place where he's meant to be?
So, let's talk about this post-horror thing. I know this is confusing and profoundly unsatisfying for many of you, but using the aesthetic of a particular genre without complying to its rules is a genuinely new and exciting way to tell stories. A Ghost Story uses every trick in the book to keep you startled and intrigued by a movie that it otherwise silent and meditative. I've enjoyed it immensely more than its post-horror co-flaghip bearer It Comes At Night, which Red Letter Media's Jay Bauman correctly called "misery porn". Unlike the latter, A Ghost Story is not horror minus the monsters, it's a love story and a meditation on the passage of time told with horror aesthetics.
There's an infamous scene in A Ghost Story, which consists in Rooney Mara eating pie for maybe 7 or 8 minutes and subsequently puking it down the toilet. Lots of people took exception to this scene, calling it too long and self-indulgent. It is pretty damn long, but it does serve a purpose. A Ghost Story explores our relationship to time and places and this scene, however long and difficult it might be, serves as a baseline for everything that comes after. This scene is the only one in the movie using real time to make your perception of Rooney Mara's grief and emotional response shift. The longer it last, the more different you feel about it. It's at that exact point that David Lowery starts bending your sense of time passing.
Time, in A Ghost Story, is not linear. It passes almost imperceptibly when nothing happens and slows down to almost real-time when there are important events happening to the house. In a weirdly enthralling scene, a hipster character wearing overalls explains the entire movie to us by saying whatever we do, love or live by will ultimately be forgotten on a long enough timeline. That is the meaning I got from this semi-forceful exposition scene: if you're wandering and hoping purpose will fall out of the sky for you, you will go through history unnoticed like a ghost. Time is relentless and your life's purpose has to be independent of it. This is both digested in the scene and explored in the entire movie.
I guess this review is not super clear if you haven't seen A Ghost Story. Well, either way I strongly, strongly recommend this mind-bender. Not only it's clever and oddly philosophical, but it's also aesthetically gorgeous. David Lowery filmed this bad boy in a distorted aspect ratio that gives is a slightly claustrophobic feeling, which blurs the line between horror and existential parable even more. A Ghost Story is one of these arthouse movies that are simple and powerful. Only thing you need is to give it the proper time (sic) and attention and it will win you over. Another gem brought to you by A24 films.