Horror often gets a bad wrap from critics. While it is true that most horror movies released during any period are very, very bad, the Horror genre is a fertile ground for societal and philosophical commentary; take It Follows from a few years ago, or The Witch, or The Babadook. Each of these movies is terrifying on a surface level and on a subtextual level. However, there was a film that has recently been released that is talked about as a Horror film; it looks like a horror film but perhaps isn’t a Horror film, that movie is David Lowery’s A Ghost Story.
The ghost of a man who was killed in a car accident haunts the house that he and his wife rented before his death. In her grief she sells the house and leaves his spirit to witness the life of the new occupants. Eventually, time ceases to mean anything to him as he hurtles through the past and future trying to get at the note that his wife had left in the wall of their home.
I should mention the performances of the actors, especially that of Casey Affleck, controversial star of last year’s Manchester by the Sea, who is under a sheet for most of the movie. Despite this though, Affleck is able to communicate so much with the simplest use of body language. He shows longing, regret, anger, sadness, guilt, depression, confusion all while wearing a massive white sheet with two black eye holes and I found his simplistic emoting to be very powerful. Rooney Mara also does a wonderful job in the role of Affleck’s wife, her quiet grief is perhaps the most obviously affecting part of the film.
However, what I think is most important is the atmosphere that A Ghost Story generates. It is a film about death, legacy, memory, regret and time, all big important themes. To help it along with communicating these ideas, A Ghost Story certainly has a unique look. The main character is a man in a sheet with eyes cut out and the film is shot on a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a soft feel to the film, almost like you are looking at a box of old photographs. This interesting aesthetic is coupled with a “Haunting” soundtrack with a standout original song by composer Daniel Hart’s band Dark Rooms.
All this atmosphere doesn’t generate obvious scares; yes, there are a few jumps in the film, loud noises and supernatural happenings (it is called A Ghost Story after all), but what I think the film focuses on more than the overt frights is a sense of existential dread. During the film we see little vignettes of our Ghost observing tragedy happening to the people around him, the new tenants, the destruction of his house, the first American settlers and himself. All the while a thought plays back in our minds, nothing lasts for ever; human lives, books, movies, houses, planets, even ghosts must eventually cease to be, and in that is the true terror: we are all of us doomed to end through our own demise, the demise of those who remember us and the destruction of what we have left behind.
Plot and pacing wise, well this isn’t a narrative driven film, it is an exploration of ideas of mortality and memory. What story there is starts of incredibly slowly, I think there was a 10-minute sequence of someone eating a pie, at which point I was about to give up on the film altogether, beautiful cinematography be damned. However, once this movie gets rolling it is an affecting meditation on the nature or mortality, even if that message is a little too on the nose especially when it is spelled out during the party scene with a downer of a house guest.
A Ghost Story is a haunting, beautiful film, both visually and thematically. It is not a horror film, and it is not one of these post-horror films, it is a drama akin to a Terrance Malick film, something that explores the inevitability of ending, the past, the future, loss, memory and time. It has one of the finest performanes I have ever seen and one of the longest pie eating sequences I have ever seen and it is a film that I implore you to check out.
You can watch A Ghost Story in Cinema’s now