A BONUS EPISODE OF TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
A Ghost Story
Review by Paul Preston
A Ghost Story is the film director David Lowery has chosen to follow his remake of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, about a boy and his invisible dragon who lives in the woods. Points to Lowery for not wanting to get pigeon-holed, because his follow-up is a languid, patience-testing meditative experimental film with big-name actors in it. Pete’s Dragon was a folksy take on the famous story of the orphan and his best friend dragon. It was a very good film that earned about $143 Million worldwide on a $65M budget, which, taking into account the marketing budget, means that it wasn’t much of a hit. Perhaps it needed to be…worse? 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and this year’s Beauty and the Beast are both box office smashes…and awful.
Nevertheless, it seems Lowery is signed on (according to IMDB) to direct Disney’s live-action Peter Pan. Given the Disney/Hollywood ventures, he’s certainly doing what he wants in between because A Ghost Story doesn’t give a DAMN what you’re used to seeing on the movie screen.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play a common couple in a house, going through what couples do – arguing about the house, working from home, canoodling – until Affleck is killed in a car accident. He is last seen in human form left on the slab at the morgue with a sheet over him. After a long take of him lying there, he eventually rises and walks through the hospital, with the sheet now draped over him and two eyeholes cut out, assuming the “ghost” position we’ve known in movies, TV shows and stories for decades. But there are no Scooby Doo adventures to be had, A Ghost Story takes the piss out of the costume previously worn by the Peanuts and turns it into a uniform of sadness.
There have been plenty of ghost stories where people are visited by a ghost. Here’s one where we’re following the ghost and the people come and go in front of him (and he can do very little to interact). Just to prepare you, there’s SEVERE mundanity in the afterlife of a ghost. Affleck returns to his home, sheeted-up, and wordlessly observes the changes in the air. One moment involves Mara’s character grieving and eating a pie given to her by a neighbor. Lowery holds the camera on her for roughly six minutes while she eats the pie. She stabs at it with her fork, she cries, and she eats a pie. It’s an intolerable sequence, and as much as I didn’t enjoy watching it, I know that’s the point. To sit and watch her lengthy, unpleasant, hopeless pain. Just like Affleck’s ghost.
Eventually, it’s determined that the ghost isn’t just observing his house, but he’s rooted there. He sees a neighbor ghost, attempts to fling objects around the house in his frustration and eventually A Ghost Story’s themes become some of the more ambitious and lofty of the year as the ghost explores history and time itself! Seriously. It’s kind of insane. He shoots the majority of the film in 4:3 aspect ratio, as if to literally take a Polaroid snapshot of the moments in these character’s lives. Lowery is also in love with the long take, not just pie-eating, but Mara listening to a song Affleck wrote going on and on (she cries again), the two of them snuggle for eternity and you warm up this Lynchian love of stillness early or you’re gonna be out early.
I’ll stick around for any director who’s got a vision that’s executed well (and that last part is the key. There aren’t enough directorial signatures out there in the producer-run studio system, but there are fewer signatures that result in vivid execution). By the end, Lowery’s mopey ghost (and I) witnessed a lot. Slowly. I was hoping for a more emotional payoff and didn’t get it, but there is an effective bit of mystery in the finale that casts its own spell on everything you’ve seen before it, which is the final vivid execution of a movie that’s got balls in its minimalism.
Directed by: David Lowery
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Run Time: 92 Minutes