Review: A Ghost Story

Though not a Hollywood film in the least, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story plays with ideas about the paranormal that are fashionable among the bean counters of tinsel town, except that they’re in service to a story about loss and the persistence of love. And in that regard it’s compelling up to a point. What fails to get through is any real reason for caring about the people on screen.

Though Casey Affleck gets top billing, he’s barely in the film. His character, referred to in the credits only by the initial “C,” is a marginal singer-songwrter living with a young woman of indefinite employment called “M” (Rooney Mara). The initial presentation of their relationship of one that isn’t fully consummated emotionally is one of the few elements that Lowery gets right dramatically, but it also points toward a problem with his basic premise. When C is killed in a car crash not far from their cheap Texan suburban ranch house, there’s not much emotion to dissipate during M’s mourning period, and Lowery is reduced to expressing her feelings by having her eat a whole pie in one sitting. Though the relative lack of dialogue from here on out is naturalistically justifiable, it renders the plot mostly impenetrable and open to interpretations that don’t flatter the film. C remains in the “picture” as an unseen ghost, complete with bed sheet and two eye holes, and since he doesn’t talk Affleck is hardly needed except maybe on the marquee. Mara doesn’t fare much better, and M eventually moves out of the house, having gotten over C’s death.

Lowery’s purposes become clear almost too quickly, as others move into the quietly disintegrating structure, with implications that the place is haunted and was so even when C was alive. Occasionally, the director throws a bone to the viewer, as in a needlessly protracted monologue by a partygoer at the house (Will Oldham) who rhapsodizes over the history of the human race as people listen with the kind of raptness associated with religious fervor. This is followed by a kind of enervated time travel sequence that involves moving into the future (house is demolished, replaced by office building) and the past (white settlers slaughtered by Indians). What Lowery is essentially doing is explaining the metaphysics of paranormal phenomena, or, at least, his own simplified version of such. An avowed admirer of Asian directors like Tsai Ming-liang, Lowery knows how to stage long takes and wordless expositions for maximum visual effect, but the kind of ambiguity Tsai made interesting escapes him. He may scorn Hollywood trappings but he seems unable to shake the need for Hollywood-style explication.

Now playing in Tokyo at Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645), Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608).

A Ghost Story home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2017 Scared Sheetless LLC

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