A Ghost Story Review: A Tender Meditation on Life After Death

Some people walked out of my screening of A Ghost Story. Here’s what they missed.

David Lowery’s new film, A Ghost Story, is a tender meditation on life after death. Casey Affleck plays a musician who is tragically killed near the start of the film. He then awakens as a white-sheeted ghost. He returns to his home to watch his girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara, cope with his loss, move on and move out. He remains in this small house as the world changes around it.

Lowery’s film moves at a very deliberate pace. Stationary shots linger on such recognisably human moments as a couple embracing or a grieving woman comfort eating. I believe it is this slow pace that drove some of my fellow cinema-goers out into the daylight. Aside from the tremendous depth of sadness and longing that these early scenes evocatively portrayed, what the early-leavers really missed is that this is a film that gradually but steadily unfurls. The final act becomes a voyage through time, though crucially not space, as the ghost attempts to find some closure to his time on earth. The plot thickens and, crucially, the pace quickens.

The film has myriad strengths. Casey Affleck dons his white sheet for almost the entire length of the movie, but is able to emote through stature and gait. Subtle turns of his head betray the desperate soul within the sheet. Meanwhile, Lowery is able to capture great naturalism from the subjects of the ghost’s haunting. As one might expect from her recent works, Rooney Mara stands out. Her performance suggests whole internal worlds of dissatisfaction, sadness and determination, merely glanced by the scope of the film.

The director chose to present the film in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio. Basically the frame is a square. The ratio gives the film a homemade quality. This makes it distinct from most other films being made. It also emphasises the claustrophobia experienced by the seemingly trapped ghost. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo is able to fill this diminutive frame with gorgeous images of suburban America and the lives of those who live there.

Long-time Lowery collaborator, David Hart, has written a perfectly fitting score for the film. The moody and brooding strings strengthen the melancholy tone of the piece, with some very abstract moments included to unnerve the viewer. We also have the song “I get overwhelmed” by the band Dark Rooms. This is surely one of the best original songs of the year and one that absolutely captures the tone of the film.

Those in need of punchy scares and thrills had best check out Annabelle: Creation (as I intend to soon!), but those able to appreciate a film that slowly yet assuredly unfurls a beautiful study of life after death will gain a lot from this. A very rich film. Don’t leave during the pie scene.

5 / 5

Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.

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