A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story - Still 3
Somebody died and didn’t leave. There, I saved you an evening.

Y ou’re serious? This is a movie?  Something people pay for?  Really? For 80% of this film, you draped a sheet over a –well I want to say “guy,” but it could have been a coat rack— tall object, called it a ghost and watched nothing happen. Readers, you might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Casey Affleck dies early on in the film, then we see him “rise” from the morgue slab still covered in the bedsheet; then the sheet grows some eye holes. (How did the ghost make eye holes? Why did the ghost make eye holes? Why didn’t the ghost just go through the open portal to the afterlife? Ghost fail.) After that, of course, the ghost makes its way back “home” for a sheet ‘n’ greet with the missus and proceeds to stand there. For ages.  No, no, don’t move; then I might have something to follow. And the punchlines don’t stop coming:

  • If I wanted to see a guy in a white sheet stand around for 75 minutes, I’d go to a Trump rally.
  • I see life-after-death is yet another example of white privilege.
  • On laundry day, does he break out the embarrassing ones with the pink tulips?
  • Peanuts called. They want their “costume” back.
  • You get more ghost action on a Pac-Man board.
  • Sorry, it’s just Inky, Binky, and Pinky today; Clyde is in a period of self-mourning.
  • I hope you didn’t blow the movie budget on thread count.
  • This is the best acting I’ve seen out of Laurence Olivier in years!
  • Ben Affleck is Batman and now his brother Casey Affleck is Mat-man. (Does “Sheet-man” work better?)
  • I see Casey has atoned for past wrongs and become a pillar of the community. Well, a pillar at least.

Ok, Ok. I see these are getting weaker; I will stop. And while A Ghost Story isn’t nearly as bad as I’ve suggested above, it is a far cry from great. Sure, the cheap budget doesn’t help, but for me, this film was all about the failure of style. Writer/director David Lowery shot most of the film with a square lens and rounded corners. This style gives the picture a distinct 1960s-1970s home movie feel which would have been great were there any single thing to enjoy about home movies of the 1960s and 1970s. Does anybody actually look at the Zapruder film and say, “I wish all movies were shot like this?”

The other major style failure is pacing. For a short film, A Ghost Story is incredibly slow. Lowery’s camera lingers again and again and again. A scene will finish, and the audience will anticipate a cut, but the camera will simply stay on the object. At one point, we get to see Rooney Mara deal with her husband’s death by eating and entire pie in one sitting. We’re just going to watch this, are we? Gonna eat that entire thing. And the scene isn’t going to change; we’re just going to be here. The word is “cut,” David. All we need to see is Rooney chowin’, then Rooney hurlin’. We can fill in the blanks.

I’ve actually gone over the plot with explicitly saying so – Casey and Rooney are an unnamed mildly happy and isolated couple. One morning, Casey is found dead in a car accident. Then comes the world’s most passive haunting. It’s just a guy in a sheet standing there while action almost happens around him. And it wasn’t exactly a barn burner before this point.

Ok, so I give Lowery kudos that he really wanted to tell a story about loss and longing from the perspective of a ghost … hence, “A Ghost Story.” Don’t be fooled, it’s not a horror. But what I’m getting most from this interpretation is ghosts are kind of sad and pathetic. Like Interstellar and The Fountain, A Ghost Story is a Möbius strip movie. Dude, show each scene a third time; I didn’t get it from the first two … here’s essentially what (I’m guessing) happened – Lowery had exactly one (1) good idea for a film. Then he realized that ninety minutes is a loooong time. This film should have been 25 minutes tops, but it got elongated more than two kids trying to find Stretch Armstrong’s breaking point. Act III will make this film work for many of you, but getting there requires a lot of screen nothing.

♪I told them don’t you animate around here
Don’t got no dough to spend to make him disappear
I cut two holes for eyes; fans will get the idea(r)
So sheet it, just sheet it

You better act, you better do what you can
Can’t show expression to be somber man
You want an Oscar; it’s not part of this plan
So sheet it, but you want to be sad

Just sheet it, sheet it
Look straight at the lens and greet it
Showin’ those flunkees who can act right
A role not exactly like the Dark Knight
Just sheet it, sheet it♫

Rated R, 92 Minutes
D: David Lowery
W: David Lowery
Genre: Not horror. Repeat: Not horror
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: Ummmm, ghosts?
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: The happily alive

♪ Parody inspired by “Beat It”

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