A Ghost Story hones in on young couple, identified only by initial C and M, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara respectively. They reside on an isolated Texan ranch, where C is an aspiring musician and a real homebody; M, however, is restless and dreams of a more interesting life. Just as C finally agrees to move, he is suddenly killed in a car accident outside their house. What follows is C’s ghost – resembling a child’s vision of a classic ghost, a white sheet complete with brooding black eyeholes and a billowing gait – stuck haunting the house, obsessing over his lost mortal relationship, revisiting memories on-a-loop of him and M, unable to exert any influence.
The ranch’s faded and rusty exteriors provide great visual fodder. Its bungalow style interiors where one wide room leads into the other, feature big wide windows allowing for an abundance of sunlight to come in, giving scenes a light and airy feel, diluting all colours to their paler versions. The soundtrack by Daniel Hart’s dresses the film with his use of minimal, electronic echoes and his pleasant sounding characteristic high pitched voice. The music adds to the muted and melancholic tone of the film and its slow rhythm contributes even more to the stillness of some of the scenes.
Affleck and Mara reunite after both starring in director/writer David Lowery’s previous effort: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Understandably so, the chemistry between Affleck and Mara is palatable, their semblance of a true relationship is utterly believable. Their interactions, their intimacy, their body language, the subtle tensions when disagreeing; it all feels genuine and incredibly natural. M’s wallflower demeanour makes way for C’s more creative and outgoing personality. Mara seems to be slowly making her mark in Hollywood, she is increasingly solidifying herself in public consciousness as one stellar performance precedes the next. Affleck appears to be in his element, continuing his streak of left-field and troubled characters. Despite the lack of visibility of his face and body, the head nods and the bulky, drapery hand moves protruding under the sheet speak volumes. His folkloric ghost isn’t so much eerie but instead provides a contemporary fairy-tale ambience.
The film at first follows a linear, if loose, narrative which trails the couple’s relationship. Post C’s death, events start to spiral out of any continual time frame as memories from the past merge with present and future ones. Lowery uses his skill of fusing long drawn out scenes from specific potent memories, interweaves them with short unrelated scenes where big chunks of time pass in the blink of an eye. These lengthy scenes give a voyeuristic feel, peeping into deeply personal moments and these are achieved by using static camera angles. One scene, where a stationary lens films a visibly upset M sitting on the kitchen floor, binging-out on chocolate pie; consuming it within minutes, taking one aggressive bite after the next; only for it all come up soon after. C is there in the room with her watching silently throughout. These slow and lengthy scenes allow the viewer to sympathise with C, giving us a glimpse of how he now observes the world.
Lowery has created an incredibly beautiful and delicate piece of film that is drenched in visual and emotional meaning. Despite its dark subject matter, the study of death and our fixation of leaving behind a legacy, there is an underlying message of hope.
A Ghost Story is released in UK cinemas on August 11th
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum