A Ghost Story

Director: David Lowery
Screenplay: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham.

“We build our legacy piece by piece and maybe the whole world will remember you or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone”

David Lowery is fast becoming a director to keep a close eye on. His Malick-esque Ain’t Them Bodies Saints struck a strong indie and meditative vibe before he, somewhat bizarrely, took on Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon and made a huge success out of it. Now, though, Lowery returns to the same tone of Saints by delivering a very unusual and unique take on a ghost story. With a brief synopsis of the plot or by even judging the films poster you’d be forgiven for thinking that this film is possibly a joke or at least one that relies heavily on humour. But it’s not and it doesn’t. This is a very poker-faced meditation on memories, attachments and loneliness and, for those with an open mind, it works an absolute treat. 

Plot: A musician (Casey Affleck) and his wife (Rooney Mara) prepare to move from their rural house before the musician is suddenly killed in a car accident. Waking on a mortuary slab in a white sheet, his ghostly spectre returns to his house where he has to witness his wife’s grief and come to terms with the fact that he is no longer part of our waking world.

Lowery’s film is a very deep but simplistic one. He starts slowly and quietly by using minimal dialogue and he adds little to no backstory on his two main characters – refusing to even give them names. Mara and Affleck are merely credited with the initials ‘M’ and ‘C’ respectively and it’s this sparse approach that lends the film its intrigue. For those expecting or demanding jump scares or shrieking damsels you’d be better served by looking elsewhere. It does have its ghostly apparition but that’s as far as it goes in terms of it feeling anything like a horror. This is, in fact, more of a rumination on life and the impact (or lack of) that an individual has with their time on this earth. It focuses on grief and the passage of time whereby everything that was once important to a person will inevitably be washed away and, in the grander scheme, their existence ultimately becomes inconsequential.

Lowery gives plenty of food for thought here and skilfully achieves the impact of time by employing a languorous pace. The pacing will put many viewers off as there is a certain commitment and patience required when exploring C’s torturous purgatory but there’s also a genuine intimacy at work. C witnesses his wife’s grief while being unable to provide any comfort or solace just as he also witnesses her move on with her life when she eventually brings a date home and then packs up to leave the home that they once shared. It’s in these moments that you identify with C’s grief and one scene in particular has another ghostly spectre appear at a neighbours window. They both communicate with each other on how they’re just “waiting for someone” but can’t remember who and it’s at this point that you realise the nightmarish isolation that these wandering souls are left with. Their essence and being has essentially been forgotten which resonates strongly with the existential musings from time immemorial.

A genuinely heartfelt and thought provoking piece of work. Lowery explores the metaphysical with more than a tinge of despair and deep sadness. For a concept that would normally be laughed out the door, Lowery and his cast deserve the utmost praise for attempting something very different and, better still, managing to pull it off when they could so easily have failed. This film may be slow but it’s also rich and hugely rewarding when you allow it to express its elegiac tones.

Mark Walker

Trivia: The neighbor’s ghost is played by writer/director David Lowery.

31 Responses to “A Ghost Story”

  1. It’s like poetry.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice review Mark. Thus far A Ghost Story has been my favorite film of the year. It is quite a heartfelt and sincere picture, and often very funny too (“Scared Sheetless” scored plenty of laughs in the theater I saw this in). Lowery is becoming one of today’s best filmmakers in my book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thus far, it’s difficult to argue with you, man. This is up there with the best I’ve seen as well. Lovely little film. Lowery’s definitely carving himself a reputation and I’m looking forward to his next film with Affleck, Robert Redford and Tom Waits.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. God I am so incredibly bummed I missed the two weeks this movie was playing near me! Man, this is a really thought provoking and moving review. You’ve made me want to see it even more than I already have been!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a good flick, mate. Very unusual and it really shouldn’t work as well as it does but it’s the sincerity it has that makes a winner. I really liked this one and considered rating it even higher.


  4. This sounds far too slow for me…… and I like affleck but I’d it right he doesn’t speak? Really hoped this was straight up horror when I first heard about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really liked this, man. It is very slow but the pace is almost hypnotic and the running time is kept to a tight minimum. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, though. Affleck has a couple of lines at the beginning of the film but after that, yeah, he doesn’t utter a word. I still wonder if it’s even him under the sheet. I know I’m not really selling this but it worked for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Discovered recently slow doesn’t work for me. Think I’m too impatient, watched Gerald’s Game the other night and I was so bored I ended up fast forwarding. Time is precious, got obstacle races to plan for 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hear you. Slow does work for me but I have to be prepared beforehand. So Gerald’s game isn’t worth it? I quite fancy that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Reviews critically for Gerald’s Game have been great, and I’m a huge Stephen King fan, read most of his books but not this one. There’s a certain thing personally that ruins a movie for me. Maybe just me. Like with Get Out where I said to you the ‘hypnotism’ aspect. I’m out after that. Just bullshit. Same for films where people talk to themselves, or imaginary conversations…….. don’t want to spoil films here so feel free to delete, but that’s why I wasn’t sold with Gerald’s Game. Or the Babadook for another example. But then some people don’t like brutal torture so I’ll happily watch Leatherface again 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • See, I’m not into brutal torture so much. I like my horrors to be psychological. I find that most unsettling and they’re the ones that always stay with me. That said, A Ghost Story is neither. It’s a whole other category altogether. I wouldn’t even say it’s a horror at all.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I was just reading this the other day…
    …and now your wonderful review.

    What I find interesting, both describe the ovie differently, but the soft dreamy tone is what unites them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a read at Courtney’s review and I’m glad she liked it as much as I did – if not more. It’s the dreamy tone that separates this from any other film of its kind. The one that it brings slight reminders of is Jerry Zucker’s Ghost but as that film played to the masses and went for entertainment value, Lowery’s film plays the to art house, Terence Malick crowd and is much better for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So glad you enjoyed this one bro. It’s one of my favorites of the year so far. Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review. I really should get to this at some stage!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. One of my favourites of the year so far. Such a great atmosphere. And finest pie-eating/vomit scene since Stand By Me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Damn, I really need to watch this one asap! It sounds nothing like what I thought it would be!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. […] A genuinely heartfelt and thought provoking piece of work. David Lowery’s film explores the metaphysical with more than a tinge of despair and deep sadness. It’s a slow moving but rich and hugely rewarding tale when you allow it to express its elegiac tones. Full review here. […]


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