Monday, 7 August 2017

A Ghost Story

Fresh off the scaly back of Disney behemoth Pete's Dragon, director David Lowery tossed off this tiny but cosmically breathtaking drama in roughly the amount of time it would have taken Weta to animate one of Elliot the dragon's footsteps. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play a couple forced into somewhat difficult circumstances when Affleck suddenly becomes inconveniently dead, and his subsequent sheet-shrouded attempt to process this turn of events (while doomed to spend the afterlife stuck in his house) drives an exquisitely eerie and refreshingly original film right into the pit of your soul.

I'll be honest, I was ready to give my heart to A Ghost Story when I realised it was shot and presented in a vignetted 4:3 aspect ratio. Evoking the aesthetic of a movie shot via Instagram (suggested filter name: Spectral), Andrew Droz Palermo's cinematography beautifully captures the caged ennui of Casey Affleck's ghost, trapped for eternity in a single location and unable to escape the confines of the camera's restricted frame. Lowery takes the boldest of decisions with his image, too: one unforgettable, static shot lasts a full four minutes, during which almost nothing at all happens apart from the consumption of a large pie. It's wonderful.
Woooooo-ney Mara

The Pie Shot, as I suspect it will soon come to be known, epitomises A Ghost Story's narrative technique. It's a film with very little dialogue (besides an incongruously verbose key sequence in the middle), relying instead on Affleck and Mara's body language to convey much of the emotion. Daniel Hart's gorgeous score helps, constantly amplifying the sense of unease, but without ever telling you how to feel. And though Lowery tells his tale sedately, time becomes an irrelevance as the story progresses. The passage of time dilates and compresses to incomprehensible extents around Affleck's ghost - as haunted as he is haunting - and his featureless countenance (save for two impenetrably black eyeholes) becomes a literal blank canvas, on which you find yourself projecting your own feelings about what it might be like to be forevermore undead and helpless to do anything about it.

After a while the film's Big Question is posed in a slightly jarring monologue from a motormouth smartass credited only as 'Prognosticator', and Lowery's preoccupations become clear. What is it that endures when everything tangible crumbles into dust? Is it love? Is it hope? Is it art? Themes of mortality and the remorseless march of time coalesce around a poor dead bastard in a blanket, as such titanic achievements as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony are weighed up against the simplicity of a short, private message between lovers for their respective universal significance.

All the while, Casey Affleck sports one of the most simple but effective costume designs since Borat's mankini. The childlike sheet-with-eyeholes idea is bold but comes layered with meaning, and like all iconic costumes it even gets its own origin story. As the afterlife extends beyond all practical context, it seems that the sheet lengthens too, becoming an ever-more unbearable burden on the spook's shoulders, and even the eyeholes appear to elongate with sadness as infinity takes its toll.
That's the spirit

Lowery jokes that he pitched the film as Beetlejuice remade by Apichatpong Werathesakul; it brought to my mind an arthouse version of Ghost minus all the fucking pottery, but neither description does it justice. There are moments in A Ghost Story that will stay with me forever. Two of them occur during two separate conversations between two ghosts: tiny, fleeting instances of heartbreaking beauty that stunned me by quickly and surgically reaching inside me and flicking a switch that no other film has for years. Maybe it won't have the same effect on you, and if not then that's fine, but I'm sorry to report that you're as dead inside as Casey Affleck's wretched wraith.

2 comments :

  1. After reading your review I'm still uncertain whether this is a horror film or a comedy.

    Is this watchable if I'm afraid of ghosts?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's very much neither of those things, and will not test your ghost tolerance one iota.

    ReplyDelete