A Ghost Story
PHOTO BY BRET CURRY COURTESY OF A24
Casey Affleck as C in A Ghost Story – not your usual spooky tale.
Parental Guidance: Some offensive language
Playing at: Cinéma du Parc, Cineplex Forum; all listings subject to change.
I usually only review movies playing in our local movie theatres, but after seeing this movie during the Fantasia Film Festival, I had to review it and try to convince every reader that it is worth the trip downtown.
I don’t like giving out spoilers, and I do not write the kind of reviews that read like a detailed synopsis of the movie – and that is unfortunate because it is difficult to explain why I liked A Ghost Story without using either approach.
Anyone who casually glances at the poster or reads the log line of A Ghost Story could prematurely conclude it’s just another romantic comedy with a bit of the supernatural thrown in – like a new take on Ghost (with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore) – but they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s not a supernatural thriller or horror movie either. It may not be the first in a new sub-genre, but it’s definitely unique, blending drama and the supernatural with a touch of home movie nostalgia.
It is the story of recently deceased C (Casey Affleck) who returns as a white-sheeted ghost to his home and bereft wife, M (Rooney Mara). While he can still move a few things around and mess with the lights, C can do very little but watch as his wife goes through the various stages of grief and ultimately moves on, leaving behind her husband’s spectre that is bound to the home he was reluctant to leave even in life. While even the ghost in the house next door finally finds sufficient reason to move on, C becomes “unstuck” in time and he is forced to experience both the past and the future, stuck to the spot where his home was built. Eventually, C does find closure, but the viewers are left to wonder: what was it that allowed the ghost to move on? And as irritating as the conclusion will be for some viewers, the ending of the movie would not have been as emotionally charged and satisfying had it been shot differently.
A Ghost Story will try the patience of many viewers, especially of anyone expecting a horror or supernatural drama. While some people might be tempted to walk out of the theatre after watching sheet-covered Affleck stand around for minutes on end, or Mara’s nearly 10-minute pie-eating moment, others will be enthralled by such scenes. Lowery appears to be obsessed with time; sometimes stretching moments to near-infinity, other times compressing decades into the blink of an eye. While that may seem to be a sign of poor pacing or bad editing, A Ghost Story tells its story remarkably well, and time’s apparent changing nature only serves to strengthen the emotions the movie wishes to convey.
The emotional effect of the sheet works in great part because of how the scenes are set up. Lowery sets the mood so that by the time Affleck walks onscreen, the viewers are already primed, not for what is about to happen onscreen, but to project their own emotions unto the blank form of the ghost.
As such the sheet becomes much more than a mere prop; it’s a narrative device, a blank canvas on which the viewers can splash their own emotions. While denial would seem to be the foremost emotion that can be attributed to a ghost that refuses to move on, viewers are free to project a wide palette of emotions on the blank canvas of the ghost’s form.
A Ghost Story is not unlike a quiet, very slow-paced walk through the various galleries of an art museum, best to be appreciated in quiet introspection and solitude. That sounds sad, and the movie will indeed move you to tears, especially the ending, but you will come out of the theatre feeling that you have seen a truly unique film.