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Film Review: A Ghost Story (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts.

REVIEW:

Apparently “A Ghost Story” is a divisive film, and I’m late to the party. Again.

In a nutshell, a young couple who are deeply in love and spiritually connected are, from what we can tell, very happy and content. Then the guy dies. His spirit, in the form of a stereotypical sheet-covered ghost, returns to their home and can’t seem to leave.

 

Yup, it is pretty much that simple. Why all the fuss?

The internet is making this film into either the most disliked recent movie or the most beloved piece of “cinema” of recent years, depending on what web site or movie forum you land. It would be nice to say that the whole debate is easy to understand, and it is, kinda, but some people just don’t want to hear reason.

The biggest reason people dislike this film is that it tends to be – umm – a touch ponderous in its storytelling. Okay, fine, people say it is boring as hell. So boring that people walk out. I mean, in those people’s defense, do we really need to watch every single minute of Rooney Mara choking down almost an entire vegan chocolate pie then puke it up in one very, very, VERY long take as her deceased partner (played by Casey Affleck) silently watches her from another part of the room? Do we need to see the couple, prior to the man’s death, hold each other for minutes and minutes in silence with nothing visibly happening?

And come on. Dressing up your leading actor in a sheet with eye holes and having them mope around their home as tedious, every-day crap goes on around him? Who comes up with stupid stuff like this AND then expects us to watch it? Why isn’t this movie more interesting? I want my money back, but can I still use this movie to put me to sleep?

Well, the internet isn’t known for subtle discussion, is it?

Oddly enough, those who think “A Ghost Story” is slow, boring, and a little simple-minded are as correct as those who think the film is a beautiful look at love, loss, and all those other things that endear indie projects to the hearts of cinema fans.

How can they both be right?

Face it, people: Not all movies are made with EVERYONE in mind. Duh. A sensitive soul would probably be horrified when faced with a non-stop action/violence fest like “Hardcore Henry”. People who live for fast edits and intensity probably will walk out of “A Room with a View”.

Rooney Mara appears in A Ghost Story by David Lowery, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute | photo by Andrew Droz Palermo.

“A Ghost Story” really isn’t made for people who can’t understand why Michael Bay isn’t up for sainthood.

That’s not to say that fans of spritelier-paced and plot-intensive films are too stupid to understand the subtleties of this film. It just isn’t aimed at them, and if they don’t care for it, that’s fine as well. Unfortunately, most online film fans seem to think that every movie should appeal to everyone equally and are more than happy to insult and shred a film because it did nothing for them, and those who fawn over every art film that induces sleep and/or migraines will defend these “differently-abled” movies by labeling every detractor as being “stupid” or “shallow”.

Now that we have established the two camps on this film, which camp does this review fall into?

Neither.

Is “A Ghost Story” a good movie? Yes. It is beautifully shot. It takes a very deep, yet distanced look into the afterlife of a person who cannot find the right way to process and let go of their physical life and remains stuck in place. The performances are quiet and subtle. You sense the main character’s isolation as life, time, and the world move on without his input, yet he is trapped and has to watch and endure. It is a wonderful meditation on the power of love as well as the nightmare of not being able to adapt to and face change.

Is “A Ghost Story” a bad movie? Kinda. Director David Lowery throws so many cinematic tricks and flourishes at the audience that you have to wonder if he made a bet on how many he could use to make a film that still made a little bit of sense. Scenes go on so long that, if you doze off, you can often wake up a bit later and NOT MISS ANYTHING! Very little dialogue, but that’s okay because it would be so hard to hear any because most things spoken in the film are delivered as little more than whispers. And you cover your lead actor with a sheet so that he can only do pantomime for the most part.

I think, for me, “A Ghost Story” is an interesting cinematic experiment that works, but only for people who are geared for films that deal with pondering and wallowing in film technique as well as allowing a slower development of emotional depth and meaning. If you like movies like “Man Facing Southeast”, then you may be in for a treat. But don’t roll up your artsy-fartsy nose at people who don’t care for this film. Let them have their “Death Wish” reboots and Marvel Universe action-fests. That way, everyone gets what they crave, and everyone is happy.

Oh, before I forget to mention it: “A Ghost Story” is NOT a horror movie, to be honest. It uses a horror movie staple as a way to convey other concepts and ideals, but other than the horror of being rooted to a given location for what appears to be over one hundred years, future and past, the only scary things in the film are the day-to-day issues that plague us all. If you go into this movie expecting “Paranormal Activity” or something similar, you have made a grievous error.

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