Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Ghost Story Review

This past weekend I took a 30-minute journey to see A24's latest film, "A Ghost Story." The movie has enjoyed a rather successful limited release run over the past few weeks and is slowly making its way into more theaters. Now I don't normally drive that far just to see a movie, but for various reasons I felt like I needed to get out and go on an adventure and being that A24 is one of my current favorite studios, this seemed like the perfect movie for me to venture out to see, especially since I ran out of patience when I saw it was semi-close to me. I decided I didn't want to wait until it got to the theater only five minutes away from me because I didn't know if that was going to happen. Some A24 movies don't. Now if you draw a blank when I say A24, some of the movies they have distributed lately include "The Lobster," "The Witch," "Ex Machina," "Swiss Army Man," "Room," last year's best picture winner "Moonlight" and June's "It Comes at Night." These are the movies that go against your typical movie structure, which is why I usually find them fascinating. They're unique, different and innovative. A breath of fresh air. And now they've struck again with "A Ghost Story," because this is quite the movie that fits in rather well with their impressive catalog.

The risk you take when making a movie that is different from what people are used to is that there's always going to be a percentage of the population that doesn't quite grasp the vision of that specific idea or direction. I fell victim to this myself with last month's "Dunkirk" as the direction that Nolan decided to go just didn't connect with me. So yes, the fact that "A Ghost Story" is a VERY different film means that naturally there's going to be people that aren't going to like this movie due to the specific styles they went with. But if you're looking for something unique and different, I'd encourage you to check this out if/when it expands or when it comes to DVD or various streaming services. Because the journey this movie takes you on is quite the experience. I also have to mention that even though the title of this movie makes it sound like a horror movie, especially since A24 has released a lot of horror movies, this is not a horror movie. This is a straight-up drama that reflects on humanity and our own individual place in this giant universe we live in. I can see people looking at the title or poster and going in hoping for a horror and coming out disappointed with that not being what they got. Thus the warning. This is not a horror movie. Don't expect one.

The premise of the movie almost sounds silly when I describe it, but the movie centers on this couple where the man dies and comes back as a ghost. Your old-fashioned Halloween costume style of ghost with a big white sheet over your head. Thus the movie almost reminded me of that old Michael Keaton movie "Jack Frost," where the dad dies and comes back reincarnated as a snow man with one more chance to live life right. Although in this case, this ghost isn't getting a second chance at life. No one can see him. No one can hear him. He can't speak. And he's assigned to the house he's lived in where he is forced to silently stand there watching his wife try to live life without him. When she moves on, he is still stuck in the house and has to watch this other family live in the house they lived in. Being quite frank, this is a movie that is going to tear you to pieces emotionally. This is not a religious movie. It doesn't try to teach you some sort of positive message about life and what to do if you've lost someone you love. It's just flat out sad and depressing. You feel for this couple as their lives have been suddenly ruined and if you've ever lost someone you care about in a sudden way, this movie is probably going to make you think about them.

Outside this premise, what makes this movie so unique is some of the decisions they made with this. First and foremost, the framing of this movie is not equal to the movie screen or TV you will be watching it on. I don't know what the specific ratios are, but it's close to being a square. My guess is that the ratio is either 2x3 or 3x4. And the edges are rounded. Thus there's going to be a section of the screen on the far left and far right that will be completely blank. Then we have very limited dialogue. The dialogue that exists is just normal, everyday conversations among the people that come on the screen. There's plenty long shots where very little happens and also plenty of shots where the camera stays in one spot with no zooming or cutting, allowing the characters to come and go in the shot without the camera following them as if you're just watching a play. A play with long sequences where little happens. The movie takes its time to tell this depressing story and thus might bore some as it is very slow at times. If you tell me that the movie put you to sleep, I won't be surprised. But personally all of this combined had me absolutely glued to the screen. I was sitting there in awe at what I was witnessing as the movie slowly tore me to pieces.

I don't want to give too much away, but I do want to mention a few early examples of what you will see in order to paint a picture of what this movie is like. Towards the beginning, there is a long sequence of this couple laying in bed. Nothing sexual. They're not making love or even kissing much. They're just laying there, saying nothing, and enjoying each other's company. The camera stays still and no one talks. Yet no words are needed. In doing this, the movie very effectively conveys that this couple loves each other very deeply. Certain scenes around it show that there marriage was very normal and far from perfect. But they loved each other. It's one of the most romantic sequences of the year and there's very little romantic acts and no words said. Thus when the man dies, you are effectively crushed. A sequence shortly after the death is where a neighbor or friend gives the wife a pie and a note that if she needs anything to let her know. The wife sees the pie a bit later when she's by herself and takes the whole thing, sits on the floor and just goes to town on it, binge eating a huge portion of it out of pure depression while the husband as the ghost sits and silently watches her, not being able to do a thing. And the scene goes on for a while as she simply eats this pie.

That's the type of movie you're getting yourself into with this one. Long sequences with little dialogue that effectively portray a specific emotion quite powerfully. The score of the movie does a great job of setting the scene each time and each new scene almost has a specific emotion attached to it. We move from happiness to romance to sadness to confusion to anger to hopelessness. The way they choose to portray each emotion ends up being much more powerful then your typical Hollywood film and I attribute that to the unique choices they made with this filmmaking. The acting performances here are really subtle. Our couple, who are not given names in the film, are played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. I don't think these were particularly difficult performances for them. Casey Affleck simply stood with a sheet over him and stared at things. Rooney Mara got to sit and eat a pie. But yet they perform these simple tasks with perfect, which then allowed the post-production to take that and form it into a near masterpiece of a film that won't leave my mind. I didn't walk out of the theater wanting to stand on the rooftops and declare to the world that they must see this movie, but this movie refused to leave my mind.

In case you feel that I've spoiled a lot of this movie for you, I will say that the movie did go in a lot of different directions that I wasn't expecting. Rooney Mara isn't in the film for as long as I thought she would be and at times I was wondering what direction they were taking this. When the movie ended, I was uncertain about the final result. I could've sat down immediately and wrote my review hours after seeing the movie like I often do, but I couldn't because that wouldn't do the movie justice. Instead I just pondered. And even when I wanted to focus on other things, my brain wouldn't let this movie go and I don't know if/when my brain ever will. Any bit of uncertainty has slowly transformed into complete fascination and I think this process will be ongoing. Thus I don't feel it's completely fair to give this movie a score. I will. But one number simply is just not going to do this movie justice. A good comparison is to A24's movie from last year called "The Lobster." That was another unique and thought-provoking film that I found fascinating, but it required a lot of thought and still often comes to my mind. It missed my year-end list, but that doesn't really matter either. It's just a list and my score here is just a number. But that number for "A Ghost Story" currently stands at a 9/10.

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