While working on post production on his live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon, writer-director David Lowery made a movie with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in secret. A Ghost Story debuted at Sundance to effusive praise of its meditation on grief and the afterlife, although not everyone liked the film, such as our own R.C. Samo who hated it with a passion. A24 picked up the film before its debut and now A Ghost Story lands on Blu-ray for the Halloween season. However, A Ghost Story isn’t the kind of story of specters that will unsettle the audience with spooks and scares. Instead this a movie where the scares come from the existential dread of time and its passing, the horrifying realization that our footprint of this Earth is ephemeral.
C (Affleck) and M (Mara) are a couple living in a quaint little house. He’s a composer struggling to find his footing the world. Sadly, C is killed in a car accident, leaving M to grieve for her lost love. In the morgue, C awakes as a ghost draped in a sheet with only two holes for the eyes. The ghost haunts his old home, observing his grieving love as she eats pie and lashing out in rage when she entertains a gentleman caller. This ghost’s existence continues on through time, staying in the home well after M has moved away. Time moves on, people enter and leave the home, and C is there as an ethereal presence throughout all these changes, including when the home is demolished and replaced with a massive tower.
Lowery’s film has a quiet, heartbreaking quality to it. There’s little dialogue in the film, so there are no moments of emotional speeches or exposition. In many regards, A Ghost Story is practically a silent film shot in the classic 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Lowery isn’t afraid to linger on moments, such as a dejected M sitting on the kitchen floor slowly eating a pie in the midst of her grief. It may frustrate some viewers that the film languishes on these moments, but therein lies the emotional weight of the story – a collision of time and grief. The purely visual storytelling and the haunting musical score Daniel Hart create this unsettling and tragic sense of helplessness to the passage of time and the changes that result because the world keeps spinning after we’ve passed away.
The Blu-ray for A Ghost Story features audio commentary from writer-director David Lowery. Also included on the Blu-ray are a couple of featurettes that examine A Ghost Story from a few different angles. One featurette focuses on the film’s score by Daniel Hart, and the composer explains how his work informed Casey Affleck’s character. The other featurette is shot using night vision and has Lowery surrounded by members of the crew of A Ghost Story and each provide their own insight onto their contribution to the finished film. Finally, there’s a lone deleted scene.
A Ghost Story isn’t a crowd-pleaser by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a thoughtful and haunting work of filmmaking that attempts to tell a different kind of tale of the afterlife. I won’t fault anyone for not caring for David Lowery’s tale of time and grief, but for those willing to go along with what the writer-director is attempting will be engrossed as this ghost moves silently through time. Love and loss are at the heart of A Ghost Story and the film takes an unconventional path to examine these topic through the eyes of a floating spirit.