As I stated while speaking with one of the prominent figures of the Dallas film landscape, there is a seemingly undying fascination with the supernatural. A lot of us can probably recall the experience we first had when we all watched “The Sixth Sense,” but time has marched forward and we are STILL looking for that next “fix.” Like a gripping, addictive drug, however, it has become increasingly more difficult to achieve whatever it is that we are seeking.
It was several years ago when I watched my first David Lowery film. Whether it was due to the venue choice or just a bad case of sound mixing, I had some trouble really adapting to the unique experience of that particular film. I recall listening to current college students get in their “important” questions for the director and to his credit, he was more than willing to address them, but little did I know what was in store for Mister Lowery OR the star of THAT movie, Casey Affleck.
Although Lowery’s latest offering made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, back in January, the recent showing at the Oak Cliff Film Festival, as well as screenings around the Dallas area, no doubt have meant something special for the local filmmaker. Yes, the film is probably elevated by the Oscar victory for Affleck that he received in February of this year, but Lowery has made something of himself, as well. The recent remake of “Pete’s Dragon” was a great success, not only from the critics’ point-of-view, but for the worldwide audience members, as well.
With that, “A Ghost Story” would present an opportunity for Lowery AND Affleck to team up, once again, and deliver something unusual, if nothing else. For starters, try and recollect your earliest perceptions of ghosts. Think of Charlie Brown or the endless “kitty” portrayals: a simple white cloth, covering the body from head-to-toe, and two cut-outs for the eyes to see through it. The figment of a ghost is much different, at least in appearance, from THAT angle as it no doubt is as a grown-up, right? While it was a bold move to use that same image for such a serious tale, it paid off, in my view, because not one viewer in the theater mistook it for a laugh. Once you have the audience on the same page as YOU, the movie-makers, the task in creating a successful project becomes much easier.
The lead characters, portrayed by Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Rooney Mara (“Lion”) are only known as ‘C’ and ‘M’ for their acting credits. I can only wonder if the identities, by name, were meant to be conveyed as secondary to the story and development of the individuals, compared to where they go and what they do. I should probably point out that Miss Mara has ALSO teamed up with Lowery and Affleck before.
As is the case with most low-budget films, “A Ghost Story” is character-driven, NOT plot driven. What makes the circumstances different for THIS project is that it was a choice to go low-budget for Lowery. His freedom to make this movie the way he wanted to is apparent, now that he has established some great success in the industry.
I would recommend that you watch closely, because there is NOT a great deal of dialogue, throughout. There are symbols and omens that resurface, much like the characters do, in the story, and if you are not paying attention, you might miss them.
The story and execution and style are a combination of incongruent emotions and feelings. There is something sad and spooky about the ghost figure, but simultaneously comedic, in that child-like manner I alluded to before, yet the film is largely humorless. The music strikes the proper balance of being atmospheric and thematic.
I should concede that there ARE some cliches in the mix: flickering lights from an unseen presence, objects being tossed around and broken, people freaking out because they are seeing something that they find hard to explain. The twist is that WE can SEE the mysterious being and without the ghost saying a single word, we know exactly what his purpose is… until late into the movie.
The story seems to reset, both in time and location, but what about the ghost? Is the ghost someone else or is it the same as the one we have been watching from early on in the story? Why does it pick at the same corner of a wall when we had no prior knowledge of its existence before we first saw it in the film? Do the ghosts repopulate as themselves the way the living characters seem to do? What does this all mean, in the end? If time does NOT exist, then how can there be an end, but no real beginning? I wonder what Christopher Nolan would think of this feature.
For the most-part, I enjoyed the quality of “A Ghost Story” from a technical standpoint. It is probably too early to say where it ranks as an independent film, for 2017. As much as I liked the majority of the movie, I had some problems with the ending phase, BUT it likely deserves a second viewing that might just make the difference, overall.
Director: David Lowery
Screenwriter: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke, Grover Coulson, Kenneisha Thompson, Barlow Jacobs, McColm Sephas Jr and Kesha
Music: Daniel Hart
Release: July, 28th, 2017