VOD film review: A Ghost Story
Rooney Mara eating a pie10
James R | On 20, Jan 2018
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck
A Ghost Story is the longest 87 minutes you will ever spend watching a film. And that’s absolutely a good thing.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director David Lowery reunites with his two stars, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, for this moving, spooky tale – a horror in which the scariest thing is the thought of others moving on after you’ve gone. Affleck plays the titular ghost, who departs this mortal plane and leaves behind Mara’s bereft other half. What follows is a poignant montage of him acclimatising to the afterlife, which is much like normal life, but with the slight whiff of a smoke machine and a melancholic sense of invisibility.
Circling back through the couple’s happiest days to the point where they were drifting apart, even while both alive, Lowery masterfully evokes the eeriness of not quite being there. Anchored in the echoing pangs of Dark Rooms track I Get Overwhelmed, the blend of sound and Daniel Hart’s music create a perpetual sense of sad limbo, one that offers both freedom and a prison. It refuses to let our ghost’s soul go, even as time flows past, faster and faster. Lowery captures that dazzling transition by taking things painstakingly slow; one standout scene is a single, long, static shot that sees Mara’s mourner comfort-eating a tart. She pokes it with a fork forlornly, before devouring it relentlessly, a process that takes minutes but feels like an eternity. Watching someone eat a pie has never been so gripping.
Effectively a two-hander, the film hinges entirely upon Mara and Affleck, and they are superb together. Mara is magnetic, even in her silent grief, while Affleck manages to convey huge thoughts and ideas, despite spending almost the whole film hidden underneath a white bed sheet. His heartfelt frustration brings a gut-wrenching anguish to the kind of vignettes we’re used to seeing in conventional ghost stories; we’re now strangely, sorrowfully, sincerely on the poltergeist’s side. There’s a surprising touch of whimsy and humour to the visuals – the sight of a white-sheeted ghost is knowingly amusing in a post-Scooby Doo world – but the film’s childlike depiction of a ghoul is also a powerfully raw invitation to project our own emotions onto him; a blank canvas that is tinted with all the shades and colours of mortality.
Lowery’s command of tone is impeccable throughout, balancing the aching pain of loss with an often unnerving sense of dread that something is about to disrupt this couple’s quiet domestic life – and when it does, the terror unfolds unseen in the stark daylight. The result is an absorbing, surprising, sweet and spine-tingling tale of a profound bond between two people. Viewed through the nostalgic 4:3 frame of an old photo reel, here, the mere act of hanging around your old house becomes one of devotion and longing – and yet even that cannot undo the permanently transient nature of our existence. A Ghost Story? This a timeless love story in the most haunting sense. A transcendent piece of cinema.