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Movie Reviews

Sundance London 2017: A Ghost Story



Director: David Lowery

Stars: Casey Affleck, Sonia Acevedo, Rooney Mara

Released: 11th August 2017 (UK)

Reviewer: Hannah Woodhead

After producing the western crime-romance Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery reinvented a Disney classic in the form of Pete’s Dragon. A Ghost Story sees him return to dramatic-romantic territory, reuniting with the might of Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck for a cosmic tale spanning centuries. Taking on the afterlife is a tall order, but as always, Lowery rises to the occasion.

A Ghost Story takes the private and makes it public, a process of mourning projected onto the big screen. Like grief it creeps up on you, messy and irrational and sometimes hard to understand. It aches and sighs under the enormous weight of that which it seeks to capture. Lowery articulates beautifully how much loss hurts, and moving on even more so, yet it is not through Mara’s quiet widow that we see this process, but through the eyeholes of Casey Affleck’s bedsheet ghost. Rooney Mara doesn’t have as much screen time as her top billing implies, but A Ghost Story isn’t her story – it entirely belongs to the dead.

In Manchester by the Sea we saw Affleck play a man devastated by loss, but in A Ghost Story he is both subject and object – we feel both the pain his death inflicts on those around him, and the pain he feels at knowing life goes on without him. A spectre unable to move on from the house he lived in, he haunts it perimeters long after his physical ties to it are gone. Dark Rooms’ soaring electronic melody ‘I Get Overwhelmed’ accompanies the narrative, recurring throughout the film and attributed to Affleck’s musician character. Without facial expressions to rely on and only featuring sparse dialogue, Lowery faces a difficult task – conveying a complex facet of emotion without relying on traditional cinematic techniques.

As was the case with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Badlands, comparisons are inevitable between A Ghost Story and Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It’s a given that Lowery takes inspiration from Malick’s films, but in A Ghost Story, he breaks away from this to create his own mediation on the cosmic nature of the universe and the concept of legacy. It’s an unashamedly arthouse film, and will likely divide audiences – some might see it as self-indulgent, and at points you do question Lowery’s focus, which could be tighter. Even so, there’s something so lyrical and soulful about A Ghost Story, its missteps are easily forgiven. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself haunted by it after you leave the cinema, thoughts turning to your own legacy. That’s all part of the journey.

Journalist who spends most of her time professing her love for Oscar Isaac and Jeff Goldblum. The female version of Jay Sherman.

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