Take one of the biggest cliches in horror, an Oscar award winning actor, and a pie and you’ve got a polarizing, conversational think-piece film.
A Ghost Story is much more than the name suggests. Riding high off its Sundance success, David Lowery’s low budget film about a man who dies and haunts the house he resided in isn’t the typical run-of-the-mill kind of horror viewers are use to. More of an existential horror, which can be the scariest of all, Lowery taps into intimacy, grief, time, and letting go. The subject of the film is played by Casey Affleck who is in a relationship with Rooney Mara. C and M as their names are respectively, however that isn’t revealed until the end credits. From the beginning there are few words between them but the emotional intimacy they share is felt, even so that it becomes uncomfortable to watch because it feels like intrusion. Within minutes of the film C is dead. Although his death doesn’t come as a surprise. The camera pans out from the direct view of the house at sunrise to a horrific car accident where C is slumped over the steering wheel. The horizon, birds chirping and the little boy quietly looking at the remnants of the accident creates a tragic yet beautifully painted scene.
What seems so cliche is also expressive, a white sheeted ghost similar to an emoji, but not nearly as cartoonish, still conveys emotion but it’s through absolutely nothing. What lingers are the cut out eye holes on his face; two dark circles that allow the viewer to stare into a dark abyss of what was a person. What we are left with is a spirit that seems to be stuck in a purgatorial state of time. The fact that you don’t see Casey’s eyes is what makes it chilling because it gives the impression that it could be anyone underneath the sheet. Even you. Which is why, although the ghost conveys emotion with nothing, it is the viewer that gives him the emotional qualities by allowing yourself to be placed in his predicament.
The minimal long drawn out scenes and aerial shots create an ethereal presence throughout the film. This can be felt when C is returning home after he has died. The sun, a central character, appears at its highest, beaming down on the empty field he is walking through. While the tail end of his sheet trails behind like a train on a gown. It is home that the viewer witnesses the most polarizing scene in the film: Rooney Mara on the floor eating a whole pie; a failed attempt at eating away her grief. The sunlight intruding through on her leg and the wall near her while the world outside carries on. She works through her grief while eating, all the while the sounds of the knife and fork grow aggressive as her sniffling becomes louder. The silence and the eating is an uncomfortable look at grief, showing a few of its stages. The never ending feel of this scene, which lasts about 5 minutes, makes the audience endure her pain with her. While C, the deceased lover, stands in unperceived existence watching her but unable to help.
A Ghost Story is a different take on a haunting, opting to take attention away from the living and focus the feelings and emotions on the dead. C is stuck, unable to let go of his life; while his love eventually moves on with hers. As the normalcy of life continues on, time appears to shift very fast, he sits as an invisible bystander. New tenants occupy the home making him angrier and angrier; causing a ghostly tantrum that scares the Spanish speaking family. Tenants move out, and the house is eventually demolished. Everything keeps moving; time, people, changes are occurring but he’s still there.
I can honestly say, I’ve never felt sorry for a ghost the way I did in this film. It’s sad to know he died prematurely and the changes his love had to make to move on. But what’s gut wrenching is seeing him left behind and to know that he is the reason why he’s not moving on. Clues in the film lead us to understand that even in life, he didn’t want to move on. Why can’t he let go? Better yet, why can’t any of us let go of things or people? Such realism in the sheet covered soul lurking around as it relates to each of us. There is truly something to be said about the magnitude of a film with very little words but still has the power to grab a hold of you without letting go. A Ghost Story is emotional, meditative, thought provoking, and infinite. It will haunt you long after the film is over.