“A Ghost Story” starts off like you’d expect any haunted house movie: with a couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara), alone in a suburban farm house, suddenly awoken by a loud noise they can’t seem to explain.
An object falls with no explanation of how it occurs. Lights flicker and something shimmers on the walls. It all seems so obvious until the man is killed in a wreck and returns, clad in a sheet with eye holes like the kids in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
It’s an absurd sight, but what’s more impressive is that for 82 minutes, it works. David Lowery’s mysterious, surreal and profound film is hard to classify exactly, and even harder to describe. What’s certain is that it is a unique and original idea executed skillfully.
Lowery is best known for last year’s well-received remake “Pete’s Dragon,” and for his 2013 film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, also starring Affleck and Mara. Fittingly, he was also an editor on Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color,” another unclassifiable film that flirted with genre fiction. His skill there is on display when he shoots in the Academy ratio, corners of the frame softened to resemble an old album book, and often shot in washed out colors that are no less alluring.
At times, Terrence Malick comes to mind, especially in the long, wordless stretches and metaphysical interests of the story; though he borrowed extensively from Malick for “Saints,” here Lowery breaks free into his own unique style to tell the story of one person in the middle of a strange land.
The focus is almost entirely on Affleck, who remains silent and completely covered for a majority of the run time. It’s a performance that relies entirely on physicality, something he put to masterful use in “Manchester by the Sea” (for which he won Best Actor). Every movement he makes clues us into his state of mind, charming us at first then drawing us into a vein of deep sadness.
Mara gets the benefit of having her face visible, but she does a lot with silence as well, including one scene involving a pie that is surprisingly riveting (and became a small in joke on Twitter during the film’s premiere). Both effortlessly slide into the stream of conscious narrative as the story cuts from various eras and moments of their lives. It raises questions about the nature of the afterlife and human existence while not being overbearing in any one approach.
“A Ghost Story” is a movie that must be seen to be believed. It’s a struggle to even begin to describe why you should see it. If anything, that’s reason enough: movies like this don’t come around very often. It’s bound to be the most interesting and unique movie released all year. Both existential and quietly moving, it’s the kind of movie that seeks to cover all of human life and experience, and in its own way, gets there.
If nothing else, you’ll see the most intense non-sexual pie-eating scene ever produced.