I think David Lowery following up a $65 million Disney blockbuster with a $100,000 adult drama is the definition of Hollywood’s “one for them, one for me” rule.
“A Ghost Story” follows the soul of a recently deceased man (Casey Affleck) who returns to the home he shared with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). David Lowery writes and directs.
Despite what the title and poster may imply, this is not a horror film. Instead, it is a haunting look at life, love and loss and how while time goes on and people pass away, some things stay in place. The film is ambitious and at times touching, and at other points may come off as pretentious or meandering. It is certainly not a film for everyone, and some will be enamored by it while others dismiss it as alienating; I was somewhere in the middle.
Coming off his Oscar win for “Manchester by the Sea,” Affleck could’ve done what many actors do and follow it up with a big-budget blockbuster for a payday — again, the one-for-one rule. Instead, he chose to reunite with writer/director Lowery and co-star Mara from Lowery’s 2013 debut film, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” and make a small, simple indie, again showing that even though he is charasmatic-less and a major mumbler, Affleck is a talented actor.
Under a sheet for a majority of the film, Affleck can’t even use his eyes to convey emotion. Instead he has purely body posture and hand movements, yet we almost always know what he is feeling. When he sees his girlfriend having moved on with another man, we feel his betrayal; when a new family moves into his house, he feels violated; and when time keeps going on even though he must stay in place, we feel his anguish.
The sound design and score here are top-notch, with the effects and music helping to put the audience in the right mindset for the scene and to relate to Affleck’s faceless character. However almost just as important is the lack of sound, including a four minute segment that, to my recollection, features nothing but ambient noise as Mara sits on the kitchen floor eating a pie. We feel her loneliness and there’s nothing around to comfort either her or us.
And that leads me into what doesn’t necessarily work for this film, at least won’t for some people. There are a lot of long, singular takes that hold on one image, sometimes for minutes at a time. While it may seem artsy to some, it will rub other viewers the wrong way. It may make them uncomfortable or just seem boring or pointless, and it would be hard to blame them. The film also takes nearly half of its 87 minute runtime to truly pick up and get going to where Lowery clearly wanted to go and discuss the topics he wished, and the first act of the film is certainly subpar compared to the last two.
“A Ghost Story” is one of those movies that is easy to admire but harder to enjoy, and will take a while to fully digest and decide whether it will get better or worse the more you think about it. I walked out feeling ambivalent, and although my needle has shifted bit more towards me liking it than not, I still have to factor is that I didn’t care much for the film’s first half. Fans of subtlety and indie films will almost certainly fall head-over-heels with this, mainstream audiences will almost certainly be bored and confused and then there’s people in the middle like me, who are left with mixed, albeit generally lukewarm, reactions.
Critic’s rating: 6 out of 10.