A Ghost Story

14/08/17

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few months, you’ll already have heard about this film. It’s the one where Oscar-winning actor Casey Affleck spends most of his time hidden under a bed-sheet – the one where Rooney Mara has to eat an entire chocolate pie in one take, even though she’s never actually eaten pie before… Seldom has so much information been spread in advance of a film’s release. And then there’s that killer trailer, which really raised my expectations for this.

So, is the actual film any good? Well, the answer to that question isn’t as straightforward as you might hope.

This is the story of handsome young couple, C (Casey Affleck), and M (Rooney Mara), living together in a modest clapboard house, somewhere deep in the heart of Texas. When C is killed in a car crash  – don’t worry, this really isn’t a spoiler – he somehow finds himself rising up from his death bed, cloaked in his funeral shroud. He returns to his house, where he watches in silence as M goes through a lengthy grieving process before finally moving on with her life and leaving for pastures new. C is doomed to remain tied to the house, waiting for something – we’re not sure exactly what – to happen and, as we eventually witness, he is destined to be there for eternity, even able to somehow loop back around to revisit the past.

The film unfolds at such a funereal pace, it makes a Terence Malick film seem like Fast and Furious by comparison. Indeed, at times it’s less like a motion picture and more like watching a series of still images in an art gallery. Obviously, this is no accident on the part of writer/director David Lowery, who clearly wants you to meditate deeply on the subjects of bereavement, mourning and the passing of time, but I’d be lying if I claimed that the film doesn’t sometimes test my patience to the extreme. Which is not to say that there aren’t some brilliant ideas in here. There are, but they take an inordinate amount of time to reveal themselves. The conviction remains that this could have been a brilliant short but, even at an economical 92 minutes, it drags its heels more than you’d like.

Weirdly, the images do tend to stay with you long after the closing credits, but this doesn’t feel like enough to recommend it to others. It feels to me that there’s the ghost of a very good movie in there somewhere, but it’s too tightly wrapped in its funeral shroud to ever claw its way out. Definitely a marmite film, this, and I’m already bracing myself to hear from those who will inevitably jump to its defence. But I was left wanting more. And that makes A Ghost Story a major disappointment.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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