It’s difficult to be original and innovative when it comes to tackling a haunted house film. Ghost stories have been around for ages and told just about every way you can imagine. So what do you do to give the audience something they have never seen before? After coming back from directing Pete’s Dragon, writer/director David Lowery delivers a small intimate film that manages to take A Ghost Story and makes it something unique from all the rest. Though when I say unique, and when I say innovative, this may not be a positive for some.
The film begins by introducing the audience to a married couple played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara with their characters simply credited as C & M. Early on we see them interrupted from their sleep after hearing a crash on the piano. The pair investigate the noise, but find nothing. The film does a great job at pulling us in early on by creating a creepy unsettling atmosphere. From the start what helps set the tone is its boxy 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This is something that may seem distracting, but it’s a crucial storytelling device that is used so effectively here. I have no doubt we’ll see more of this down the road in other films.
It’s when C (Affleck) dies in an awful accident that the story begins to take shape. We watch from a distance as M (Mara) goes to the morgue to identify her husband. The scene doesn’t cut away as we watch her go through the emotions of nervousness, shock and grief. As the sheet is pulled back over to cover up C the camera continues to hold on the subject…and hold…and hold till suddenly we see C sit up with the sheet still covering him.
The film is comprised of many long takes. It’s something that filmmakers do to give the audience a feel as though they are a character in the room, watching and observing. At one point we now see the ghost in the sheet watching and observing in silence. It’s this artistic decision that gave me perhaps the most painfully tedious scene I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll call it the pie scene involving distraught M eating a whole pie. Not a slice of pie, but the entire thing cut between two long shots. My take on the scene is the director wants to capture the tedium of life that C’s going through one scrape of the fork on the steel pan at a time.
What’s quite impressive is how much emotion we manage to see expressed by this white sheeted ghost. There are some lights flickering and even a moment later in the film where things break, but as a character even without him ever saying a word, we really can feel for his pain and loss. Imagine the hurt of seeing those you love crying, but you can’t comfort them. Or even seeing the ones you love with another lover. But most pain of all comes when those you love leave and you are forced to stay and endure.
To further accentuate the films atmosphere is the impressive score by Daniel Hart. Instead of going with a more traditional score, he uses the string instruments simply to accentuate moments. Combine this with the cinematography that’s simple yet profound.
On a technical level and concept level this film is great and has so much to step back and appreciate. As an audience member this will attract drama and romance fans, but the movie would have been far more effective as a short film. The film set out to capture the loneliness and tedium that comes with being a ghost. It achieved that, but in the process it forgot one crucial element, keeping the people in the seats entertained.
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
Directed by: David Lowery
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
MPAA Rating: R for brief language and a disturbing image
Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.
Release Date: July 21, 2017
Distributed by: A24
The comments within this review are the critic’s expressed opinions.