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A Ghost Story (Blu-ray Review)

There is an infectiously sweet, sad solitude that runs through the very well shot, directed, acted, and scored A Ghost Story, which comes out today on blu-ray, that is guaranteed to captivate and transfix anyone who views it. Despite its title, A Ghost Story could never really be mistaken for a horror or thriller, as it is much more akin to a dramatic fantasy romance. Excellent, nuanced performances by Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) make this small film with a small cast and a small budget feel like a spectacle not to be missed. You can read further on for all the details about why, but if you are into strange, quiet, slow films just go pick this one up already.

Film 

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara start off the film as an unnamed couple who are seemingly about to move out of the house where they have spent what seems like a significant amount of time together. The film briefly shows the closeness of their bond, but also makes sure to leave in some of the frayed edges surrounding Affleck’s character, referred to in the credits as “C,” who still finds something special about the house and is slightly reticent to pack it all up and move away. A few scenes of them cuddling, discussing the house, and getting slightly frustrated with each other go by when C is involved in a car accident right in front of the house and dies. This is not a spoler of any kind; this is, in a way, the real beginning of the film. C dies, is identified in the hospital by Mara’s character, credited as “M,” and then wakes up in the morgue as a ghost, decked out in full bedsheet with eyeholes cut in it like a child’s costume. He spends the entire remainder of the film in ghost form and even though he has no lines from death to credits, he still puts in a great performance covered in a bedsheet.

The bedsheet-ghost version of C wanders from the hospital where C’s body was back to the house that C and M shared and begins to passively haunt his old home, wandering from room to room. C’s solitary specter indulges in voyeurism of M’s mourning process including a scene that involves an amazing, but not overly choreographed long take that begs to be put into the pantheon of great on-camera moments. As we, the viewers, are experiencing the world of the house from the ghost’s perspective, we are treated to these scenes of him moving between rooms while time accelerates around him. For example, he may be in the living room watching M sit on the couch at night and then turn as the camera slowly follows to find M in the morning-lit kitchen days later all in the same movement. It is a beautiful way to show both the passing of time and the ghost’s strange outside-of-it-all feeling. He can mostly only watch as things pass by him and the house goes through changes.

There are a few major epochs in the history of the house that ghost-C experiences around him and they all deal in different ways with feelings of loss, home, and the passage of time. There is the immediate aftermath of C’s death and the mourning period for M. That is followed by M moving out of the house and a new family moving in. During that time, we see that C can have a tangible effect on the living world, but it appears he tends not to use that ability much. After the family moves out, we see a party taking place with, presumably, a group of squatters having a slightly overly written discussion about human legacy and what is left behind when a person, particularly an artist, dies. The film jumps way into the future to show the area of the house as occupied by a giant skyscraper office building, which C-ghost barely recognizes. And then we see the land when it was first settled by a small family long before there was a city or a house. The film does an excellent job of making all of these near-vignette style time periods of the house feel connected and have weight by showing poor bedsheeted C silently ogling all of the occupants of the property.

The directing, cinematography, and score are truly wonderful in A Ghost Story. The film was directed and written by David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and its patience, attention to detail, trust in the actors, and simple, slowly evolving story are all thanks to his deft hand. Showcased in the film are great musings on the meaning of existence, attachment, home, death, progress, memory, time, longing, and loss. Although 10 minutes can easily go by in the film without any dialogue, these themes are deeply explored with a surprisingly expressive expressionless bedsheet costumed Casey Affleck. Additionally, A Ghost Story is shot in this boxy, round-edged aspect ratio that gives it the feel of a home movie and keeping it very intimate. Many of the shots in the film are composed and lingered on with expert precision from the eye of cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo (You’re Next). He exhibits both technique and patience to add real emotion and weight to this relatively simple and short film. The film’s score gets credit too for its long, droning sounds and even its sparse implementation of sound. It could have been easy to see this film try to fill the empty space with too much to try to hold attention, but it uses just enough to get the point across, then pulls back to allow everything to sink in. Just a wonderful job from Daniel Hart (Pete’s Dragon).

A Ghost Story is certainly a strange, slow, contemplative film, but it is a treat to watch and would be a great addition to anyone’s collection. It is sweet and sorrowful and simple. But it has a layered complexity, a great score, and terrific acting performances that make this stand out as a unique exploration of death and what home means. The score is great, the direction is great, the camera work is top notch and the film is only 90 minutes, so even if it isn’t your thing, it is short enough to not seem like a waste. My only issue is in one overly long monologue midway through the film. While I understand its contrast with the until-then mostly quiet scenes, the content of the monologue is a bit too “In your face about life, man!” for the feel of the rest of the film. The thematic coherence is good, but the execution is just a bit jarring and overly written. Like, the whole film stops (as in an entire party of people stand and turn toward the kitchen) for this random character to monologue about life for 15 minutes and then moves right on past him moments later. Whatever, small problem. The scene is still very well acted by Will Oldham (Old Joy).

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Clarity/Detail: Very clear and crisply detaled. The white sheeted ghost has noticeable details that are integral to giving him emotions.

Depth: Intentionally shot flat to evoke a ghostly point of view, but where there is depth it is true depth.

Black Levels: Black levels are solid and inky.

Color Reproduction: Color is reproduced accurately.

Flesh Tones: Flesh looks like flesh, and ghostly sheets look like sheets.

Noise/Artifacts: No noise/artifacting at all.

Audio 

Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: There are some good sound details to be found in the film. The sound team did a good job.

Low Frequency Extension: Not a lot of use here, but when there are low sounds, they sound right.

Surround Sound Presentation: Good surround presentation, with effects coming in clear and where they sound like they should be.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue, while sparse, is reproduced very clearly.

Extras 

-Audio Commentary with Director David Lowery, Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, Production Designer Jade Healy, and Composer Daniel Hart – It comes across very quickly that all the people who worked on this film really liked working on this film. They tell fond stories of what the set was like and what the production consisted of overall. Pretty interesting commentary with some good details about how they got the ghost costume to be so emotive.

A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time (HD, 21 mins) – The crew and Casey Affleck sit in a dark room and talk about some aspects of the production. This is pretty similar in content to the commentary track, but if you are a person who doesn’t care for commentaries, this is a viable alternative that still gives lots of behind-the-scenes info about the production of the film.

– A Composer’s Story (HD, 5 mins) – Composer Daniel Hart talks about the techniques he used to make the score. Short and interesting enough to watch.

-Deleted Scene (HD, 5 mins) – A thankfully deleted scene of C making coffee. While it shows off some more of the cinematographer’s patience, this one is a little too much for how early in the film it would have come. I am grateful that they took it out, but it is nice that one can check it out if so desired.

Summary 

A Ghost Story is a very good dramatic fantasy romance with tremendous acting, directing, cinematography and musical composition. It is not really incredibly accessible, as it moves very slowly, and has an almost completely silent main character. But, for those who like contemplative, touching, and beautiful small budget films about death and loss, this is the film. Coincidentally, Casey Affleck starred in a much higher profile film about death and loss last year on the mourning side of death in Manchester by the Sea. While he plays the dead one in this film, his performance is actually somewhat similar in its stoic detachment. Maybe the guy has found his niche! In addition to him, Rooney Mara is outstanding and there are just enough extras on this disc to make it worth a purchase. Get it and have a somber, inward thinking evening with someone who is okay with long takes and pie!

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

1 Response to “A Ghost Story (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Gregg

    You sold me. Blind buy here I come.