David Lowery‘s A Ghost Story (A24) lives on the opposite side of the canyon from Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart‘s Personal Shopper, a ghost tale which is all kinds of different and original but seriously scary from time to time. It has to be said upfront that Lowery’s film isn’t all that scary. Okay, two or three moments put the chill in but this isn’t the game plan, and that’s what’s so cool about it. Really. Either you get that or you don’t.
Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story.
For this is basically a story about a broken-hearted male ghost (or formerly male) who doesn’t know what to do with himself, and so he mopes around and says to himself “Jesus, I feel kind of fucked…where am I?…what’s happening?…am I gonna stand around watching humans for decades or even centuries? I don’t know what the hell to do.”
In life Mr. Confused was a married musician (Casey Affleck), and now, post-mortem, he’s returned to the home he shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). I guess all ghosts are unsettled spirits who just can’t surrender to the infinite, right? And so they hang out, looking or waiting for God-knows-what.
Affleck’s ghost watches his sad, suffering widow for a while (there’s a great extended scene in which Mara eats almost an entire pie while sitting in the kitchen floor), and then he gets pissed off when he sees that Mara has gone out with some guy, and then he gets even angrier when she leaves and a Latino family moves in.
And then the film moves on in all kinds of trippy (not to mention time-trippy) ways. I love that it’s more of a metaphysical meditation flick than one trying to give you jolts. A Ghost Story even goes into the relatively distant past (the mid 1800s) at one point until it finally circles back to the present and in fact the very beginning, if that’s not too confusing.
I don’t know if Lowery couldn’t raise an FX budget or if he just wanted to go primitive, but Affleck’s ghost is depicted, believe it or not, as a figure under a bed sheet, like some kid on Halloween night whose parents couldn’t afford a costume. On top of which the bedsheet has large black eyeholes so Affleck (or more likely his stand-in, probably some guy from craft services) resembles the ghostface killer from Scream. I can’t tell you how cool, how ballsy this feels.
I kind of loved the audacity of going with a bed sheet, although if I’d directed I might have covered Affleck in some kind of gray-tinted scrim stocking, in the vein of those dead soldiers in Richard Lester‘s How I Won The War. That wouldn’t have cost much, and it would’ve looked a little cooler. You know that a fair number of Joe Popcorn types are gonna go “what the fuck?” when they see that bedsheet, and especially when another bedsheet ghost appears in a window of a home next door and waves.
The more I think about A Ghost Story, the more I love it. I don’t know how the gifted Lowery could have made this and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and then turned around and directed Pete’s Dragon, which was basically a sentimental piece-of-shit FX movie for families. I guess he needed the dough.
Deceased soldiers in Richard Lester’s How I Won The War.