For anyone that hasn’t seen or heard anything about A Ghost Story, the new film from acclaimed writer/director David Lowery, you should certainly keep it that way. One of the most acclaimed (and most wanted) films to come out of this year’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the film was something of a rarity going into the festival in that it had actually been shot in secret over the summer after Lowery was finishing work on Disney’s remake of Pete’s Dragon and used their downtime and summer break to make the film. They should do it more often, as they’ve produced something quite staggering here.
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, fresh from their partnership in Lowey’s previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, play a young married couple, (listed in the credits as simply C and M), living together in a small suburban house that is somewhat detached to the houses around them. One night while blissfully sleeping, they are roused by a loud crash over their piano in the front room that seems to have been something of an anomaly once they investigate as nothing appears to have caused it. Soon afterward, C is killed in a car crash just outside the house and after M identifies his body at the morgue, he arises as a ghost, covering head to toe in a large white sheet with the usual two holes cut out for eyes. The ghost then returns to the house and begins to see both M’s mourning and the ever-changing landscape of the house itself over the course of many decades.
From the outset, it should be said that anyone who enjoys their ghost vicious, scary and capable of the vilest things imaginable then you may not quite get what you paid for – but your money will have been very, very well spent regardless, for A Ghost Story is quite simply breathtaking. Indeed, after the screening at Sundance London earlier this week many of the critics in the cinema were all together as we collected our thoughts – good, bad or indifferent – after watching something so original and profound. There will be those that the film doesn’t attach to or just don’t find their way into Lowery’s vision but the debate about it will as intriguing as the constructs of the film itself.
Visually, the film is as remarkable as anything you have seen this or any other year and evokes the best of both the film and digital world into an awe-inspiring whole. Shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with the edges rounded off, you are transported immediately into this world that while part of present day has a nostalgic feel to it, as if you are flipping through a collection of old photographs that are showcasing the relationship between the two and their history and future all at once. Indeed there are some big questions posed by the film about life, loss, and love as well the afterlife, the world we inhabit and the lives we lead and effect during our ever-diminishing time on this plain but such is the power of the film that nothing feels overpowering, nothing feels contrived or conceited, instead feeling magical, reflective and unconditionally transportive.
Helped by it’s poetic, lyrical nature and Lowery’s ever-present camerawork – many long, languid, unbroken takes that for some may be overly indulgent – only elevate the film even further into the cinematic ether, combining to make A Ghost Story an exquisite, thoughtful, moving and truly wonderful piece of cinema. If there’s a better film this year we can’t wait to see but it will have tsome waymeway to be as truly breathtaking as this.