What happens to us when we die? Texas filmmaker David Lowery returns to the Lone Star State to give us one perspective while reuniting his “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” co-stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. The actors once again play a married couple in the film that was shot in the Irving-Dallas area just down from where Lowery grew up. Affleck plays a musician who is killed in a car accident and then comes back as a ghost to haunt his rural home and observe Mara. Apart from a few scenes, Affleck spends most of the film under a white sheet with the eyes cut out to represent his spectral form.
Lowery doesn’t give the couple names, Affleck plays “C” while Mara plays “M.” She rushes out to work every morning (her job is not specified) while he tinkers around on the keyboard writing melodies. The two actors only interact in a few opening scenes to give the audience a glimpse of the couple’s relationship before C is killed in a head-on collision. It just enough time for us to realize that they love each other but she’s not happy in the weathered rural home. C, on the other hand, enjoys the home’s rustic character and the quiet neighborhood which proves optimal for songwriting, although his career seems to be at a standstill. Occasionally the home’s tranquility is disturbed by an unexplained noise that could be the old home settling or maybe something supernatural.
Most of the film takes place at the couple’s home except for a scene where M identifies her husband’s body at the hospital. It’s an eerie scene to watch as Lowery keeps the camera on C’s sheet-draped body for about a minute after M leaves. Then in what resembles a scene from a John Carpenter film, C sits up, looks around, and walks away covered in the sheet that has two blacked-out eyes. In the next scene, we watch C walk across a pasture headed back to his home to be with M. In the spectral form, Affleck walks instead of floating, so the sheet drags on the ground. Also, it’s a very slow methodical pace that may indicate that time is moving at a different rate in the ghostly dimension, an effect heightened by Lowery filming Affleck at a different frame rate.
Loneliness permeates the film as we watch M mourn in silence while C stands there unable to reach out and touch her. In one standout scene, Mara grieves by binge-eating an entire pie while sitting on the kitchen floor. Strangely enough, the small-framed actress had never eaten pie but she woofed down the entire dessert in one take. In case you’re wondering it was a vegan chocolate cream pie courtesy of the Spiral Diner & Bakery.
As time moves forward so does M. Soon new people move in and out of the country home but C’s ghost continues to haunt the location. Just when the film finds its rhythm, Lowery experiments with the timeline pushing the story into the future and the past. The jumps in time are thought-provoking and one scene in particular was a bit mind-boggling. Since we can’t see C’s facial expressions under the sheet the audience is left to speculate about his disposition. I found it very interesting that I was projecting my feelings onto Affleck’s character thus imagining that he was reacting the same way. Lowery uses Daniel Hart’s wonderful score to aid in setting the film’s tone. There were certain times when Hart’s score combined with Mara’s voice reminded me of the song “Little Fluffy Clouds” by The Orb and yet other times it felt desolate and haunting.
There is a great party scene in the middle of the film which takes place after new occupants move into the home. Singer-songwriter-actor Will Oldham delivers a monologue about leaving a legacy behind and the end of the universe. It’s a poignant moment that seems to speak directly to C’s ghost. There is also a cameo by singer Kesha in the film (credited as “spirit girl”) who plays one of the guests at the party.
Shot in the boxy 1:33:1 square aspect ratio to give the film a nostalgic feel, “A Ghost Story” is not a horror film although at times it does resemble one. There is a supernatural element that surrounds what is basically a spiritual love story that should encourage stimulating conversations about the afterlife. Can a film be sad and beautiful simultaneously? Yes. The beauty lies in the film’s simplicity. And in case you’re wondering, I spoke with Lowery, and he confirmed that Casey Affleck was under the sheet for every shot in the film.
“A Ghost Story” originally opened in theatres on July 7, 2017