A year since his first foray into the big-time with Pete’s Dragon, David Lowery returns to the indie scene with A Ghost Story. The film is, for the most part, constructed of long, often static shots of its central, unnamed couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara). There’s an uncomfortably voyeuristic quality to these shots, as the camera hovers over the two as they make love, or crouches unseen as, in one painfully drawn-out shot, Mara munches on an entire pie on her kitchen floor in a quiet moment of shame and grief. While these long scenes will polarise audiences regarding their necessity, what they inarguably succeed in doing is to elicit an emotional response (even if that response is simply frustration).
In these moments we, as an audience, seem locked in place, capable only of feeling. It’s not until later in the film that we see how apt this sensation is. Without wishing to strip the film of any of its many little surprises, suffice to say our passive reaction grants perspective through the eyes (or eye-holes) of an unseen figure. The introduction of this figure, the titular Ghost, comes at the cost of a character’s swift and unceremonious exit, which sparks the film’s themes of grief, time and memory, alongside what little plot there is.
From these small beginnings the film gradually widens its scope, spanning months, years and decades – forwards and back. While this temporal exploration makes for some striking and affecting imagery, the film is at its best when it contracts its scope to its core couple and their grief. This portrayal, while dealt with softly overall, occasionally does take direct aim for the emotional jugular, with a montage of subtle revelations scored to Dark Rooms’ I Get Overwhelmed set to rinse out some tear ducts. This heavier touch does stray towards the blatant on occasion, however; a prime offender being a scene midway in which some asshole in dungarees monologues about the film’s central concerns outright.
Contrary to any attempts at genre pigeonholing, Lowery’s film doesn’t wear horror or tragedy as well as its lead wears a sheet; its sights are set on an eventual rather than an immediate peril. The film’s findings in this regard are nothing we don’t know already (in some small sense we’re already bracing for it). Instead it’s the Ghost and audience’s silent witnessing of what comes after where A Ghost Story strikes raw. It’s the film’s thousand mundane blows which leave us tender: the packing away of boxes, the washing of bedsheets, the fading guilt of moving on – legacy’s erosion amid the ebb of time and memory.
A Ghost Story will screen at the GFT from the 11th to the 24th of August. Tickets are available here: https://glasgowfilm.org/shows/a-ghost-story-12a