A Ghost Story
dir-scr David Lowery
prd Adam Donaghey, Toby Halbrooks, James M Johnston
with Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Brea Grant, Augustine Frizzell, Rob Zabrecky, Barlow Jacobs, Liz Franke, Kenneisha Thompson, Grover Coulson, Jonny Mars
release US 7.Jul.17, UK 11.Aug.17
17/US 1h27
A Ghost Story
He's behind you: Mara

affleck mara
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
A Ghost Story A quirky oddity of a movie that's more than a little indulgent, this spiritual odyssey explores issues of life, death and time with a poetic sensibility, almost as if Terrence Malick made an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. It's so absurd that it feels like it should be funny, but the tone is strikingly somber, even morose. And while it's too mannered to be emotionally involving, it's impossible to look away.

A young couple (Affleck and Mara) have their happy life interrupted by a car crash that leaves the deceased husband wandering the rooms of their house, watching his wife grieve as he looking for some sort of reason to move on. His only communication is with a spirit next door, and things get lonelier when his widow moves away, replaced by a single mother (Acevedo), then a house full of young partiers, including one talkative guy (Oldham) who goes on and on about the meaning of existence. But this ghost's journey has still only begun.

Writer-director Lowery has two very clever gimmicks. First is the idea of recounting a haunting from the spectre's perspective, which inventively adds an unsettling sense of loss and yearning rather than horror. Second, and rather more gimmicky, is to depict the ghost using the oldest trope imaginable: a man covered in a sheet with two eye holes cut out. This may look vaguely ridiculous initially, but the largely effects-free approach adds unexpected weight to the spirit's presence, and it's performed and filmed for maximum visual impact.

In their relatively brief on-screen moments, Affleck and Mara beautifully convey this couple's complexity. There's a deep connection mixed with various individual issues that makes them strikingly authentic, adding to the sense of distance later. Only Acevedo and Oldham have characters that make any other impact, and both are superb: Acevedo as the steely single mother in a more typical horror interlude, and Oldham as a blabbermouth who has no idea how close he gets to the truth.

Exactly what Lowery is doing here remains elusive, deliberately obscured by the often painfully quiet way scenes unfold in long, static takes. This achingly still approach will put off some viewers, although a couple of clever effects and a properly mind-bending final act have strong impact. This is a meditation on loss as well as a comment on the unreality of time itself. And it's rare to find a movie that encourages us to get lost in its depths.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 31.May.17

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