Review: A Ghost Story
A visual poem about death (and life).
I’m not much of a movie critic. I only refer to movies as films by accident and all I know about cinematographers is that they make movies look pretty. It’s in this spirit I’ve prepared a tiny review of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story after seeing it at the Fantasia Film Festival.
Whenever I see an non-blockbuster it’s usually because of a glowing recommendation. In this case, it was Alissa Wilkinson’s praise of A Ghost Story at the Sundance film festival that first piqued my interest. I’ve since gone back and reread her review, but all I could remember when I was buying my tickets was how she’d compelling made a case for the movie being beautiful, sad, and worth my time.
I’ve followed Alissa’s reviews for a few years and she’s rarely steered me wrong. Developing a reading relationship with an insightful critic who shares some of your interests and is always looking below the surface (without ignoring the surface!) is a valuable undertaking. Go make a critic friend today!
So, I went into it with expectations it would be good, but not remembering how it was supposed to be good.
A Ghost Story is striking.
It’s got these really long shots that give the scenes space to breathe and are, honestly, a bit uncomfortable at times. You get trapped in the frame with the ghost and the experience asks you to empathize with the slightly funny but sort of terrifying man under a sheet—if there is a man under there at all, or just memory.
Much of the emotional heft of the movie came from making something of that white sheet, putting myself underneath it in a way, and watching life continue around it.
The music by Daniel Hart is excellent and a perfect fit for a story about memory and grief. I’ve found myself listening to the soundtrack non-stop, trying to recapture the desperate, creeping introspection the movie evoked.
So, I liked it a lot. It was a bit hard to follow at times because of the minimal dialogue but in was a bit like listening to great piece of music in that way—it demanded more of me than I typically expect a movie to.
A Ghost Story isn’t a scary movie, but it is a sad one. In the Q&A after the screening, director David Lowery said the story came out of recent time in his life when he was struggling with cynicism and “hopelessness bordering on nihilism.” The movie doesn’t let viewers dismiss death, loss, or grief; it won’t let us explain it away either. It asks us to share a room with them, and that’s worthwhile exercise.
After 92 minutes with A Ghost Story, I left the theatre feeling vaguely uplifted. Not happy, definitely not happy, but hopeful nonetheless.