Every once in a while, a small, artsy film comes along that is embraced by critcs, for the most part, and divides paying customers. A Ghost Story is one of those films. If you missed it in theaters, now is your chance to take in this film in the comfort of your own home.
The story, on the surface, is fairly simple. A couple, known only as C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara), are planning to move from their small, rural home in Texas. C isn’t so keen on leaving and M doesn’t understand his attachment to the place. C dies in a tragic car accident only a few feet from his driveway but his spirit returns to the home he never wanted to leave, and continues to exist there over a long span of time … or does it? The film seems to have a fairly linear story, but then it starts to go off in other directions that left me a bit confused by the end. This is one of those “your mileage my vary” movies. The final moment though is devastating and has really stuck with me.
While the story may confound some, the film still gives you a very strong emotional attachment to C’s ghost — as long as you don’t find the sight of a man under a sheet with two black eye holes funny. And I actually did not. There is a really terrific shot when C first becomes the ghost, one of those “how did they do that” moments that occurs during one of the films long static shots, and somehow throughout the rest of the film, you really can empathize with the ghost. There is no expression, no real body language to tell you how C is reacting, but just turns of the head and how the folds of the sheet react almost makes it appear that the eyes are responding to various moments going on around him. I really felt empathy for C as he watched the world change around him, and Casey Affleck and the costume designer really deserve heaps of praise for not making the ghost look silly.
In this age of HD and 4K televisions, you may also be put off at the start by the film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio (with rounded corners). It’s an interesting directorial choice but you get used to it after a few minutes and it gives the film a more intimate, home movie feel. The cinematography varies from location to location, from the muted tones of the interior of the house to some breathtakingly beautiful shots of the ghost outdoors. The musical score is also terrific. There’s a lot to love about the entire viewing experience even if the story may leave you scratching your head.
The newly released Blu-ray presents the film in a 1080p HD 16×9 widescreen, 1.89:1 presentation with the 1.33:1 viewing area with the rounded corners. The image accurately represent the theatrical presentation for home viewing. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also terrific considering the film is almost a silent movie in places with very little dialog. The surrounds are put to use for the film’s score and sound effects and what dialog there is is clear and crisp.
The Blu-ray also includes a few extras:
- Audio Commentary with Director David Lowery, Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, Production Designer Jade Healy, and Composer Daniel Hart – This is a great feature that allows the crew to discuss many aspects of making the film, all together in the same room watching the movie and relating very scene specific things, while all having a great time. It’s not a boring track by any means, and there are a few secrets revealed about how a simple scene was the most expensive in the film because of extensive (and invisible) CGI work, and the director explains how the ending came together on the fly which may explain why it’s not a coherent as one would expect.
- A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time (20:20) – The director, crew and Casey Affleck gather in a supposedly haunted location to discuss making the film in a sort of campire ghost story setting, in the dark, shot with night vision. All the extras retain the film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
- A Composer’s Story (4:37) gives Daniel Hart a few moments to discuss creating the score for the film.
- Deleted Scene (5:56) – One long take of C making coffee just before the car accident. Wisely deleted since the first half of the movie is filled with long static shots like this, but it does reveal one surprise about the driver of the other vehicle that is not present in the theatrical cut.
A Ghost Story is ultimately a wonderful yet melancholy film, despite the many questions it left me with at the end … but sometimes that’s the point, to let the viewer decide for themselves what it all means based on how it affects them emotionally. The story is certainly about love and death and not being able to let go of something, but how it gets there is all up to you. I was emotionally invested in the ghost, so on that front the movie is a great success. As stated above, your mileage may vary.
Lionsgate generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray of the film for reviewing purposes.