A Ghost Story (4 stars)

A Ghost Story

Captivating rumination on existence from David Lowery, starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara

In Western entertainment, a person hiding under a white sheet in order to appear ghostly was popularised by 19th century theatre. Although it has been used in horror films to great effect it has also become a silly staple of cartoons like Scooby-Doo. Writer-director-editor David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon) leans confidently away from goofy by using the husky outline of Casey Affleck under a bed-sheet to create an eerie presence that glides through time as witness to private moments of excruciating grief, wondrous snippets of family life and brutal passages of American history.

Stirringly rendered intimacy between a couple played by Affleck and Rooney Mara – known only as C and M respectively – shifts elegantly between loving and hostile. After C is killed in a car crash he returns to his house to make contact with the woman he loved, but soon becomes distracted by the vibrant life circling his isolated soul and increasingly frustrated by his inability to communicate. C's reappearance in the mortuary might deliver a chilling jolt but Lowery mostly maintains a melancholic mood with his use of static shots that hold their gaze far longer than is comfortable.

Lowery channels filmmakers like Jonathan Glazer and even Stanley Kubrick and harks back to classic ghost stories as a way of communicating love, loss and grief. He also beautifully explores human attachment to physical spaces in a similar manner to the late Chantal Akerman and examines the way the brain processes memories with bursts of sound piercing periods of silent observation. The music composed by Daniel Hart swells to entrancing levels and cuts out suddenly to bring the viewer back down to earth. A long-winded lecture of sorts by a man played by Will Oldham initially distracts as he explains how humanity is doomed but, for the most part, Lowery has crafted a captivating reflection on the enormity of mankind's existence and the tiny part we each play in it.

General release from Fri 11 Aug.

A Ghost Story

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 27min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: David Lowery
  • Cast: Rooney Mara, Sonia Acevedo, Casey Affleck, Carlos Bermudez

C (Affleck) and M (Mara) are a couple; when C is killed in a car crash, he returns as a ghost to make contact with M. Lowery manages to reanimate the corny old trope of the ghost under a bedsheet, creating a story about grief and a captivating reflection on the enormity of mankind’s existence.