Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, especially if you can also execute them with minimal effort. This is what David Lowery, the director and writer of A Ghost Story, accomplished.
The plot is fairly simple: one fateful morning, a man dies right outside his house, and then ends up as a ghost haunting the abode. Unlike other spectres, our ghost is different. Using the simplest of practical effects, our phantom looks like a cartoon for children. He is a generic humanoid figure hiding underneath a white sheet with two black eyeholes for a face. He doesn’t speak, and for the most part, shuffles around not doing much except observing his surroundings. It’s an innocent take on a classic haunting story, where we see the story from the ghost’s perspective, instead of the people living in the house.
The very first thing you notice is that the film is using a much smaller aspect ratio, one that resembles movies and shows used before widescreen. He also adds a sense of nostalgia by rounding the sides of the production, giving it a softer feel. Unfortunately, this magic is lost after a while as your eyes will get adjusted to such a different visual style. The other thing that truly stands out is Lowery’s masterful use of long takes. He focuses on non-consequential activities and scenes, which tend to go on forever. What makes this even more impressive is how the actors don’t corpse while Casey Affleck is standing idly by in the corner, wearing a cute ghost costume. This unique style plays with your sense of time, a prominent theme spread out through the movie.
While I was watching it I could not help but feel a sense of unease. All the techniques Lawery used gave me the impression of claustrophobia, and to a degree a sense of boredom. I felt that nothing is happening, and the end is nowhere to be seen. The simple costume felt constricting watching Affleck wear it for most of the movie. What’s even shocking is that the movie is no longer than an average film. I think that we are so accustomed to watching big budget movies full of dynamic action and pages of dialogue, that we have to get readjusted to experience such a different kind of movie.
At first I really didn’t like it, it felt a little pretentious, and really dragged on. Once it was over, I had the opportunity to talk to my friend who watched it with me. He absolutely loved it, and pointed out things that I missed, or didn’t think to consider. In addition, I stayed for the director’s Q&A in the same venue. I listened to everything he had to say, hoping I could understand more. After hearing him out I started to understand the director’s intent and the decisions the he took. In the end I felt that wanted the audience to feel partially blind, partially deaf, and partially immobile, essentially putting us in the role of the ghost.
A Ghost Story is definitely not a movie for everyone. The only thing I think that could have made the movie better would be if it was a short film rather than a full-length feature. You can still get the whole message without overdoing it, and this could possibly grab a wider audience.
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