Film Review: A Ghost Story @ Sundance London 2017
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Every film festival has that one controversial film that will divide audiences between ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘pompous trash’.
Whilst A Ghost Story has many positive reviews already under its belt, it definitely has potential to be this film. Director David Lowery’s off-beat vision is just so bizarre that it would be easily interpreted either way – but with a storyline intrinsic to each and every audience member watching, strangely hypnotic visuals, and a central concept that pulls you in like quicksand, Lowery definitely steers his film in the right direction.
Exploring the grieving process and through Casey Affleck’s untimely death, the film begins by showing us a vision of idyllic love. Whilst this vision includes uncomfortably long cuddling scenes in bed, it sets the tone for a realistic and painful grief that Rooney Mara portrays touchingly. And then includes uncomfortably long scenes of said Rooney Mara eating pie. Seriously – it’s about five minutes and will make you lose the will to live, but once you’re past it, it all becomes worth it again.
It’s the sort of damaging, boring, audience-losing scene that could ruin a film from its tedium, but Lowery keeps it in as some sick testament to the points the film makes about time and space. We are forced into this discomfort for as long as he chooses, enduring it much as his central character does throughout the dimensional confines of his existence. Whilst this sounds negative - it truly is breathtaking how well-crafted and thought-out the film becomes for noticing these moments. Everything really does tie in together, and meaning comes from the smallest places.
Yes – this central character is Casey Affleck with a sheet on his head. A cheap Halloween gimmick representative of the afterlife, he wanders throughout his home as time, and his girlfriend, move on. There isn’t really a narrative to A Ghost Story as much as there is an experience of a state of being – it feels like Lowery’s interpretation of what might be rather than an engaging storyline. And that’s okay, it works admirably straddling the line between a drama/mystery and a type of Avant Garde film.
It feels almost too big to understand at points, but again, whilst that would be destructive to other films, it only serves to add to the points being explored throughout. The ghost asks us who and what we are, what existence is, if there’s an afterlife, and what our place is on the unstoppable wheel of time. The silence of the film's central character is apt – the main dialogue coming from an angsty party goer spilling out his pessimistic standpoint on space and time, guiding the audience dangerously close to an existential crisis as each minute ticks by.
We don’t learn anything from A Ghost Story. Instead, Lowery aims to ask open-ended questions, to get us to ponder and reflect on what it means to be human and how our interactions define us. As strange and alienating as the film could be, it defies the odds, and draws audiences closer with its exploration of life and death. It truly is a remarkable, poetic piece of cinema - perfectly pieced together by an expert hand. If you've ever wondered about existence, or even if you've not, it's a movie that's worth your time.
A Ghost Story screened as part of the Sundance London schedule 1st - 4th June. It will be in UK cinemas 11th August.