A Ghost Story

Given its generic title, fans of mainstream horror might be shocked by A Ghost Story, and not in the ways they suspect.

This elliptical tale of apparitions from the afterlife by versatile director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) isn’t scary in the conventional sense, although it’s certainly haunting in ways that resonate beyond the usual jump scares and cheap thrills.

The filmmaker carefully crafts a character-driven examination of the grieving process that’s both poignant and provocative, for those with the patience to withstand its downbeat and deliberately paced approach.

The story begins with an unnamed couple, played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, bickering over whether to move out of their modest rural Texas house. The husband subsequently dies in a car accident, prompting his widow to grieve and eventually move out. But he remains behind, in the stereotypical form of a ghost represented by a corpse in a white sheet, struggling to come to terms with his own death and the presence those who later live there.

The first half of the film essentially follows the married couple through the bereavement period that follows his death. Then the screenplay detours into a Malick-style meditation on memories and the passage of time, through the eyes of the ghost and its beloved house, which spans generations.

Lowery not only subverts genre conventions — with some playful touches that break up the mostly solemn proceedings — but his ambitious vision makes a powerful impression with its meticulous attention to imagery and atmosphere.

Hypnotic yet ambiguous, the result isn’t for all tastes. The film is excessively slow-paced, with Lowery favoring long takes (often static and silent, in a narrow aspect ratio) with little verbal communication. During one early stretch, we watch Mara, without saying a word, devour a sympathy pie straight from the tin for several unbroken and intentionally painful minutes.

In fact, Will Oldham is the actor with the most dialogue, and he appears in only a single scene while delivering a rambling existential monologue at a house party — under the watchful eye of the titular specter, of course.

Even when it’s difficult to grasp exactly what A Ghost Story is trying to say in some of its more head-scratching segments, the film commands appreciation for its vision and audacity. You might not see ghosts the same way again.

 

Rated R, 87 minutes.