ReelBob: ‘A Ghost Story’ ★★★
By Bob Bloom
“A Ghost Story” may haunt you, but not in the way you would expect.
Admittedly, you have to admire writer-director David Lowery’s conceit of having star Casey Affleck spending the bulk of the movie walking around silently covered by a sheet with eye holes that make it look like a Halloween costume thrown together five minutes before the start of trick-or-treating.
Lowery’s feature is a minimalist, indie project he shot after directing Disney’s live-action “Pete’s Dragon” remake and before beginning his reboot of that studio’s “Peter Pan.”
Unlike such genre diverse films as the 1946 Abbott and Costello comedy, “The Time of Their Lives,” the 1947 supernatural romance, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and more recent features as the two versions of “Ghostbusters” and the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore weeper “Ghost,” spirits and humans do not interact in this story.
In fact, the movie’s main conceit is that Affleck’s ghostly character is primarily an observer rather than a participant.
Yet, the manner in which Affleck is framed and his subtle body shifts under the sheet allow audience members to interpret his emotional state.
The movie is a treatise on permanence — in life, in art and in society.
Things change when the husband is killed in a car accident.
At the hospital morgue, his wife identifies his body, then leaves. The camera lingers on the corpse on the slab for several moments, until it rises and begins a journey from the hospital to its familiar house.
There, the spirit watches as his wife grieves — a five-minute sequence of her devouring a pie, in which she demonstrates her hunger, grief and anger. The scene is astounding in its length and preciseness in performance.
At first, time crawls for our apparition. The clock begins to accelerate after his widow decides to get on with her life and sell the house.
Though rooted in the same space, the ghost begins a rushed journey through times from the future, back to pioneer days and then full circle to a surprise and touching conclusion.
“A Ghost Story” is about insubstantiality. As a character played by Will Oldham explains, nothing lasts — not books, not art, not culture, not people and not relationships. Everything is a slave to time that keeps its own pace and cares nothing for manmade or natural creations.
“A Ghost Story” is filled with silences. Several sequences show a motionless Affleck simply observing events around him.
Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo creates an other-worldly atmosphere, isolating Affleck’s spirit in his shots and muting interior colors.
Daniel Hart’s score fits the mood that Lowery, who also edited the movie, wants to create.
At times, “A Ghost Story” is slow and a bit maddening. Overall, though, it is an experiment in which you should participate.
It also makes you ponder those unexplained nightly sounds you may hear despite believing your life rests on a solid foundation of reality.
“A Ghost Story” is not a sad feature. Rather, it’s an unsettling venture about the arbitrariness of time and eternity.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
A GHOST STORY
3 stars out of 4
(R), language, disturbing images