DIR/WRI: David Lowery • PRO: Adam Donaghey, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston • DOP: Andrew Droz Palermo • ED: David Lowery • DES: Jade Healy, Tom Walker • MUS: Daniel Hart • CAST: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Cephas Jr.
This is not your typical ghost story. Only very briefly do things go bump in the night and the culprit is a prototypical white-sheeted figure but the story that embodies him is not campfire fodder meant to fuel cheap scares. Instead writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) presents us with a filmic elegy all the more haunting, and beautiful, in its quaintness and restraint.
C (Casey Affleck), a struggling musician, and wife M (Rooney Mara) are preparing to move out of their rural homestead when tragedy strikes and C dies in a car crash. At the morgue, the coroner carefully pulls back a white linen sheet revealing his pale, bruised face and, after a tearful goodbye, M leaves. Only we are left to watch and wait, in the first of many long and lingering shots, as the motionless corpse, now alone, suddenly rises from the gurney cloaked in its death shroud. As it wanders invisible through the halls of the hospital a doorway of light appears, prompting an exit from the land of the living, only C is not yet ready to leave. He returns home and becomes rooted to the land, a spectral spectator of the world and the people in it moving on without him.
As we explore and contemplate C’s unfinished business, Lowery and co. impart themes of loss, loneliness and regret but the true beauty of the film lies in the simple act of observation. The most private of moments often play out uninhibited by cuts. In her grief, M gorges on pie to the point of getting sick, she can’t see her dead husband lurking in the same room or us for that matter in a darkened theatre. C, covered by cloth, can’t emote to the situation but we do it for him and his presence encourages us to communicate what he can’t. In this privileged (but ultimately powerless) position, walls are no longer a barrier and, long after they crumble and rise anew, much has changed but the cycle of life remains a constant. It’s a simple and yet wholly original concept that cleverly utilises a less-is-more approach to allow room for the weighty existential themes to resonate, chiefly humanity’s want and need to create a long lasting legacy.
Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo creates an enthralling visual framework in figure-hugging 4:3 to evoke a painterly quality, especially vivid during the near motionless moments. While potent in tone and atmosphere these long unbroken wordless sequences will test less patient souls. Fans of Malick will feel at home but to the uninitiated it might recall a thought-provoking art installation or an awkward mournful minute’s silence stretched to feature length, but the beguiling imagery is sure to enchant regardless.
In this life and afterlife affirming masterstroke, Lowery transcends what we’ve seen before easing us in with recognisable tropes only to strip back the bells, whistles and ouija boards to reveal an almost silent and yet deafening beating heart and soul beneath.
12A (See IFCO for details)
A Ghost Story is released 11th August 2017