Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that. A Ghost Story is the new film by director David Lowery, who directed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and last year’s remake of Pete’s Dragon (which I contend is probably the best of the Disney remakes to have come out in recent years). This film reunites his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara and this was shot quickly and quietly after Lowery finished post-production work on Pete’s Dragon. This is a film that captivates you throughout the 87-minute runtime.
In this film, Affleck’s C and Mara’s M are a married couple living in a house. After he gets killed in a car accident off-screen, C wakes up in a morgue and walks back to his house. There, C watches M grieve over his death. I don’t want to talk more about the film out of fear of spoilers, but from the trailers I was expecting one thing, but I was quite surprised (in a good way!) when the film becomes something else entirely, with themes about death, the concept of time, and life after death, but told in a straightforward storytelling. All of this is set within the confines of their house to brilliant use.
One of the things that this film does well are the long takes that Lowery and his DP, Andrew Proz Palermo, employ throughout the course of this film. In particular, a scene with Rooney Mara’s M and a pecan pie plays out almost as if we, the audience, are ghosts observing what’s happening on screen. Lowery also does a smart move in not overly editing the film, given that he edited this film himself. Each frame is pretty simple in its execution. A Ghost Story also employs an interesting visual palette, in that it’s presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. So it plays out like you are looking at old photographs or home videos. Some of the images in this film are absolutely haunting as Lowery and Palermo frame C’s ghost within the shots. The use of the music and sound design works well for this kind of story. Even the extended use of silence in scenes compliments the story. They could have easily been overly dramatic, but Affleck and Mara both give restrained performances.
While I very much enjoyed this movie and its themes, this film isn’t for everyone. The pacing, especially in its first third, is slow. While I get what Lowery was going for, some might be bored with it. With the use of silence, there are long periods where there’s no dialogue or music forcing us to focus on the visuals on screen.
Overall, I can’t stop thinking about A Ghost Story. It’s a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. I could easily write more paragraphs about just how much I liked this film. A24 has another winner on its hands. With this and Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has shown us that he’s one of the best young filmmakers working today and a filmmaker that to watch. Even though it may feel like a small story, Lowery is showing us something much bigger than ourselves. Please, do yourself a favor and watch this film. It’s seriously one of the best films to have come out so far this year.