Review: A Ghost Story

As Bela Lugosi used to say – beevare! This is not your average ghost story. It is decidedly below average, in every possible way.

If you’ve seen the trailer to A Ghost Story, you may be intrigued. Watching the film, many will feel intrigue turn to boredom pretty quickly.

At the film’s beginning we see a young couple, played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, move into a house. Things go bump in the night, and that’s where the similarities to a conventional haunted house story ends.

Affleck’s character (neither he nor Mara’s charcter have a name) dies in a car accident. At the hospital, his corpse rises, with sheet intact, and walks back to the house. There the sheeted figure, with two black holes cut out for eyes, watches his beloved grieve.

There’s an instantly infamous scene where Mara’s character eats a large chocolate pie in two takes. It’s a long scene, and a very boring one. It’s easy to forget you’re even watching a film with a ghost in it.

The sheet device will strike many as distracting, and in fact hard to take seriously. There’s something inherantly comic about it. There have been much more profound films about grieving, it’s not even the best film about grieving released this week. That honour goes to A Monster Calls. Much of the problem is that the film focuses on the ghost grieving, and since it’s just a sheet, there’s no emotion there at all.

Some other inhabitants try to make the house a home, but because it’s haunted, they don’t stay long. There’s another scene even more tedious than the pie eating one where a party is being held in the house and a particularly overbearing guy with very bad underarm sweat marks makes a protracted speech about the meaningless of life.

Those who have a problem with Affleck’s high-pitched mumble will be pleased to know that one of the film’s saving graces is that he doesn’t talk much in the film. In fact no one does. It’s basically a series of long, quiet scenes where nothing happens. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but in stretches this comes across as a very inferior version of Morvern Callar.

The film does have its admirers, as did director David Lowery’s 2013 film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which also starred Mara and Affleck.     

Another of the few things the film has going for it is Daniel Hart’s atmospheric score. Otherwise, this feels like a gimmick that falls flat. Why on earth would you make a film about a couple separated by a death and show the grief from the dead person’s point of view, while covering his face and body and taking away his voice?

Some would say it’s brave filmmaking, while others will just find it dim. I wish I had put a sheet over my head and gone to sleep.

✭✭

A Ghost Story is currently in limited release.

Richard Leathem @dickiegee