Sitges 2017 Review: A Ghost Story will not scare you, but make you cry

A film with a bedsheet ghost will teach you about love, grief, and nihilism.

You need to know this, a lot of people will hate David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. They will despise having seen the film thinking it is a horror film based on the title and the poster. Those people are idiots and should read the film’s description before getting wrong ideas about it. This is not a horror film, instead it is a powerful and heart-breaking story about love and time, also starring a ghost.

From the opening scene the writer and director, David Lowery, shows you this is a different kind of movie than you may have been expecting. A Ghost Story is shot in 1:33:1, so the image looks square, king of like an old picture. There is also almost no dialogue in the film, really this review will probably have more words than the film’s screenplay.

We follow Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (C and M, respectively). They are married and living in a beautiful house. M wants to move but C isn’t ready yet. Suddenly, C dies. It all happens off-screen. M goes to the morgue and identifies the body, then covers C with a sheet. Then the sheet rises and starts walking. Two black holes show us where C’s eyes used to be, the classic bedsheet ghost-look. C then follows M home, and silently stares while she processes her grief, in the most incredible scene I’ve witnessed in years.

Rooney Mara gives a performance for the ages, while Casey Affleck argues that he acts best when you don’t see his face.

But then, M moves on. She leaves the house C never wanted to leave in life, and now he isn’t able to leave in death. Times passes, and we follow C as he silently moves around the house while people move in and out, form a Spanish-speaking family, to a partying group of young people.

A Ghost Story is a very, very small movie packing the enormity of existence. We stay in the same location throughout the entire film (except for a morgue scene), and mainly follow one character. Even the aspect ratio is meant to enclose the film in as tight a space as possible. Yet the film presents big ideas about love, time, our place in the universe and not being able to move on.

It is easy to see this as a film about grief, but it really is a story about a ghost tied to a place. A film about not being able to detach yourself from a certain place. About moving on. Lowery apparently got the idea from an argument he had with his wife when she wanted to move out of a house he wasn’t prepared to leave, and that idea haunts the world of A Ghost Story. Even when we move away from a place, we leave a piece of us behind.

The costume design and cinematography makes the presence of what should be a silly ghost into an ethereal being.

The film’s leads are fantastic. Casey Affleck gives an incredible performance despite having his body covered in a sheet for most of the film. It is to his and costume designer, Annell Brodeur’s credit that the ghost works so well. It is a simple thing, but the length and texture of the sheet gives the ghost as much personality as the performance. The ghost feels alive, yet Affleck moves and reacts in subtle, strange ways so it doesn’t seem human.

You know the incredible scene I wrote about earlier? Rooney Mara presents us with the gift of what has to be the pinnacle of cinema. A scene so simple, yet so raw with emotions that it should give her every award possible. You’ll know the scene when it happens.

A man talks about the futility of life, and how meaningless it is to do anything because even if people remember what you do, eventually we are all going to die. Yet this film presents the best antithesis to that statement. A Ghost Story argues that it does matter, because it happened. Because we were here.

Grade: Opening Night

How I grade films

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