- by Jeff Beck
A Ghost Story: Beautiful and Ambitious, but Lacking in Substance (Blu-ray)
Most people probably aren’t going to be familiar with the name of writer/director David Lowery. He’s been a filmmaker since around 2000, dealing mostly with shorts, but didn’t really make a theatrical work of note until 2013’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Even more people will know him from last year’s delightful “Pete’s Dragon” remake, which many saw as a great improvement over the original Disney film. For his next project, he has opted to reunite with Affleck and Mara to tell a completely different tale: a story of love, loss, reflection, and grief all wrapped up in the simply titled “A Ghost Story.”
“C” (Casey Affleck) and “M” (Rooney Mara) are a married couple who are getting ready to move out of their quaint little house and into the city. Sadly, C is killed in a car crash right outside their home, leaving M to try and go on without him. However, this story is not so much about her as it is about him, as we witness C arise from the morgue covered in a classic ghostly white sheet and begin to explore his surroundings. He soon finds himself back at the house, watching over M as she goes on with life before finally moving out as planned. Meanwhile, C’s journey continues as he sees what happens in the past, present, and future, all the while waiting for someone who may never come.
David Lowery’s film is epic in its scope and ambition. It feels as though there’s so much he wants to include in this tale: a wife dealing with the loss of her husband, a couple that might not be in complete agreement about leaving their home, a ghost that isn’t sure how to move on and exploring time in the process. However, the strange thing about “A Ghost Story” is that you can’t help but feel the lack of substance within it. There’s a strand here and a strand there, but when all is said and done, in terms of its narrative pursuits, there just ends up not being a whole lot to grasp onto when it comes to the story being told.
There are certainly times in which Lowery is doing his best to communicate the themes he wants to explore, but then there are also times in which you feel that the film is nothing but a cinematic trick. Take for instance a scene that follows the death of C in which we watch R come home and eat pie for what feels like a good ten minutes. Granted, people deal with death in their own way, but having such an extended scene does nothing to explore this further and, as mentioned, merely makes you think you’re being “Punk’d.” The same can be said of a scene later on in which we listen to a partygoer rant and rave about his thoughts on life for what seems like an equally long amount of time. I suppose this was the only way Lowery could find to inject some of his thoughts on the matter, even if it does come across as a random existential lecture.
That being said, this is an extraordinarily beautiful film, featuring gorgeous cinematography from Andrew Droz Palermo and elegant production design by Jade Healey and Tom Walker. Much of Lowery’s film is basically an experience with very little dialogue, so the visuals play an incredibly important part. At least as far as the aesthetics go, they definitely nailed it, giving the film an eerie, dream-like quality as C goes on his journey through time. There may not be much in the way of narrative substance to keep you occupied, but there’s no denying that the film’s beautiful look will keep you at least partly entranced.
Taken all together, it’s easy to appreciate the ambition and beauty that went into this little project, but unfortunately that’s not quite enough to get it where it needs to be. A little more focus and a little more editing (which is ironic given that the film doesn’t even run a full 90 minutes without credits) and the themes Lowery wanted to present could have lit up the screen, providing the full-on haunting experience he was going for, rather than the gorgeous and fascinating, yet fleeting, experience “A Ghost Story” ultimately ends up being.
“A Ghost Story” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. The film is presented in a rather peculiar way in that it almost looks like it’s supposed to be a home movie (i.e. rounded edges in the corners of the frame), and while there is a very slight haze that’s noticeable every now and again, for the most part it’s a very clear picture that does a fine job of showing off the gorgeous cinematography. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is very much on the soft side, so a little volume adjustment is necessary, but once that’s done, the dialogue, score, and sound are heard with perfect clarity. Overall, while both areas could have used a little more work to bring them to optimal levels, it still remains an above average home release.
Audio Commentary with Director David Lowery, Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, Production Designer Jade Healey, and Composer Daniel Hart: An intriguing commentary in which Lowery and some of the crew take you behind the scenes of the making of the film.
A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time (20 Minutes): A featurette that explores the making of the film through a group interview with David Lowery, Casey Affleck, and more.
A Composer’s Story (5 Minutes): A featurette that discusses the film’s music through an interview with composer Daniel Hart.
Deleted Scene (6 Minutes): A pointless deleted scene in which C makes coffee, followed by an alternate take of the crash.
David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” is an ambitious tale filled with gorgeous imagery and pieces of an intriguing narrative, but the film is ultimately let down by its lack of substance, which leaves you with a beautiful, yet somewhat forgettable, experience. Lowery was definitely thinking big with his latest project in regards to what he was trying to reach for. However, at the end of these brief 90 minutes, it’s unfortunate to have to say that he just doesn’t quite get there.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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