The spiritual world and the afterlife continue to provide food for thought and fascination to any number of filmmakers out there who would like to express a specific feeling or idea to the audience and, indeed, the new film by Pete’s Dragon director David Lowery taps into this concept.
We must stress at this point, before we go any further, that A Ghost Story is not a remake of the 1981 John Irvin adaptation of the Peter Straub novel Ghost Story (in case older readers think it might be that). It is a quickly-shot (a nineteen-day shooting schedule in old-style 1.33:1 ‘Academy’ ratio), rural supernatural drama. In terms of look and style, it is exactly the sort of thing one might expect Terrence Malick to do - if he ever had the inclination to make a ghost story.
The focus is on a young couple, simply named C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara), who share a house in Texas and have increasingly contrasting needs in their lives and relationship. All of a sudden, C is killed in a car accident just outside their door and a grieving M has to come to terms with her loss. In turn, C has to suddenly confront his new ghostly existence wearing a white sheet from his time in the morgue, as his partner begins the long and arduous process of grieving and moving on in her life…
A Ghost Story is an atmospheric and thoughtful contribution to the ghost story genre and at first glance, it will have more appeal to the art-house crowd who might not otherwise take in a supernatural ghost story, because of pre-conceived notions of what that might entail.
The image of Affleck walking around in a bedsheet with eye holes is a clear nod to John Carpenter’s original Halloween and traditional horror fans will be thrown because of the distinct lack of on-the-nose scares which should be on offer – not to mention feeling some disappointment because A Ghost Story doesn’t follow the traditional template. However, this is a different kind of genre film and it should be saluted for attempting a different idea and perspective overall.
One flaw of the film does lie in it’s quick, guerrilla filmmaking spontaneity (as we understand, this is what the director was intending to do, having just filmed Pete’s Dragon in a much bigger context and budget).
A Ghost Story is exactly the sort of story that would benefit from a studio budget, as there are some intriguing ideas and concepts at the heart of this film, which is a shame. Perhaps Lowery will get the chance to expand on this, like Michael Mann did when he remade L.A. Takedown as Heat.
Another key flaw is that the relationships are not played out as effectively as the relationship between Sam and Molly in the classic 1990s blockbuster Ghost, or earlier films like Blithe Spirit. It doesn’t detract from the performances too much of Affleck and Mara, who remain eminently watchable as befits their talent and presence.
A GHOST STORY / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DAVID LOWERY / STARRING: CASEY AFFLECK, ROONEY MARA, WILL OLDHAM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW