A Ghost Story : Intermittently devastating and undeniably stylish, David Lowery’s post-horror experiment is largely a success. At its best, it explores the poignancy of the mundane, experiments with the passage of time, and exerts a quiet emotional pull. At its worst, however, the film is long-winded and obvious in ways that nearly validate the jokes made at its expense.
Waiting for Someone: At every festival screening of A Ghost Story, David Lowery has likely had to answer for the single, unbroken shot that sees Rooney Mara scarf down an entire pie. I’d much rather ask a question of the viewers: Did you notice the ghost looming behind her? Mara’s depiction of outsized despair is so arresting, so elegantly performed and captured that she almost obscures the walking bedsheet (Casey Affleck’s deceased ‘C’) that leads the film. Credited as ‘M,’ she sighs and stares her way through a performance of grief at its paralyzing and contemplative worst. And then she’s gone. Gone from C’s life and the viewer’s at once. We’re left to watch a silent, sheeted C weather the episodic onslaught of time. Reviews of the film - as frequently as they mention the pie - call attention to the rounded corners and brownish, Instagram tones that define its cinematography. Every shot, whether shockingly quick or agonizingly drawn-out, resembles (in a literal sense) a snapshot in a photo album, or a slide on a projector. Fittingly, the film functions like a slideshow outlining its own influences. It’s a pitch; a naked appeal to nostalgia and existential wonder that hopes to simultaneously validate its director’s artistic bonafides. Malick’s whispery looks at the cosmos, Weerasethakul’s neon-lit reflections on eternity, and the famous skylines from Blade Runner combine to form a vision of the future by way of Lowery’s cinematic past. Unfortunately, it’s the possible homage to Richard Linklater, his closest geographic and temporal contemporary, that makes the biggest impression.
Think About It, Dude: When organizing my thoughts into a review, I strive to eliminate the absolutes and unabashed passion - both positive and negative - that tend to dominate my conversations about film. I’d never want to put in writing that something was the absolute best or absolute worst of anything. A Ghost Story’s second half, however, includes a rambling monologue by “Bonnie” Prince Billy’s Will Oldham so terribly predictable, plodding, and patronizing that it impresses me as the absolute worst sequence in any film so far this year. Drawn seemingly from a direct-to-DVD sequel to Waking Life, the sequence confronts the viewer with the concept of eternity thanks only to its deadening, interminable length. Inexplicably, Lowey provides Oldham the film’s only loquacious role and makes him the focus of what might be its longest shot. It nearly kills the film.
Our time with A Ghost Story is so brief, and often so quietly moving, that the occasional noisy missteps on Lowery’s part disrupt its effect like unexplained bumps in the night. Nevertheless, the film’s stylistic and structural experiments are deserving of some commendation. Lowery remains a promising talent, and I remain eager for his next film.