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Friday, July 7, 2017

Movie Review: #AGhostStory

The tedious and problematic A Ghost Story tests our patience.

Review by Matt Cummings

In a Summer box office that's revealed people's tiring of predictable sequels and unnecessary reboots, a batch of truly unique properties/premises have overtaken the chatter at the Internet Water Cooler. Sadly, that doesn't apply to A Ghost Story, a movie that tests our patience with its tedium while doing little to challenge our perceptions of the afterlife.

The couple C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) live in a nondescript home that's anything but that. It appears to be haunted by a ghost who makes noises on their piano, drops books in front of them, and (in one case) goes full ape shit to destroy the home. But when C dies in a car crash just outside the property, he awakens as a ghost himself, complete with the white sheet, black cloth for eyes, but no ability to speak. Soon, he's on a time travelling adventure of the spirit, as he's forced to watch M move on without him, eventually moving out. But instead of following her, C becomes a silent witness to the life of the house itself, taking on a time-traveling adventure that will see him try to reconnect with his bereft wife, see technology overtake his home, and even test the boundaries of the afterlife itself as he struggles to make sense of this tragedy.

There is a truly interesting story behind A Ghost Story, but it's mired in so many unnecessarily long sequences - including one character eating an apple pie for 5 minutes - that any effect Director/Writer David Lowery is trying to build is instantly reduced. Death and the afterlife can be a exciting discussion to see presented on the big screen, but when you have (we hope it's him) Affleck walking around under a white sheet with black eyes with absolutely no dialogue from him, the character has to emote on a level that Affleck can't, given the white sheet. How humanity passes into the afterlife (if there even is one) is a topic that few films take on. Usually, it's the anachronistic white light followed by joy; here, we get a more realistic perspective, and the potential to take filmmaking into that realm is exciting. There's only one interesting sequence in A Ghost Story that actually talks about the fleeting nature of life, something that I thought was the point here. But by this time, Mara is long gone, with C seemingly anchored to the property even when it's no longer a house. It soon becomes apparent that he has a special connection to it, but that's really all it is. He's just a silent witness, and that's just plain boring. Even a time travel moment late in the movie could have been something special, but we can't tell if it's in the years before the house's construction or after some sort of cataclysmic event has leveled the planet. Ghost is filled with moments like these, edging tantalizingly close to brilliance, only to be dumbed-down by problematic holes in Lowrey's script.

Affleck and Mara have some nice scenes together at the beginning, but it's a lot of hugging and very little else. M listens to C's music track, they argue a bit, and then it's on to life without each other, and those moments with Mara are perhaps some of the best (at least in theory). As her life moves beyond his, we never get the sense at C and M are really made for each other, and that C's obsession with staying in the home is weird, even when it's revealed why. By that time, 90% of the 92-minute slog is over, and we couldn't care less.

A Ghost Story is one of the strangest movies I've seen since the brilliant but misunderstood The Neon Demon. Perhaps I'm not dialed in to the movie's message, and one day after a second viewing I might find it to equally inspirational, but it's doubtful. When moment after moment in Ghost becomes an exercise in tedium that results in very little, it reminds us that sometimes grand experimentation can lead to glorious failure. There's nothing glorious about this Box Office Summer of Shame, nor is there anything of any value behind A Ghost Story.

A Ghost Story is rated R for brief language and a disturbing image and has a runtime of 92 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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