The 400-Word Review: A Ghost Story
By Sean Collier
July 31, 2017
This movie is going to make some audience members very angry.
Not because it’s confrontational or controversial; rather, because it has a particularly misleading title. The moviegoer who heads to the cinema and picks out a film on the spot — contrary to critical and studio belief, a common sort of audience member — is likely to assume that A Ghost Story is a routine sort of spookfest pabulum, a quick-and-effective bit of PG-13 macabre.
Instead, it’s a quiet indie drama about the passage of time and the pain of letting go. In which one scene features nothing but a character slowly eating a pie for upwards of four minutes.
So it’s not exactly Annabelle, is what I’m saying.
We meet C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara) at a fraught moment in their relationship; they’re moving house over his objections and generally avoiding meaningful communication. When C is killed in an auto accident, he returns to their home as the storybook signifier of a ghost — a figure shrouded in a plain white sheet, with two dark circles cut out for eyes.
C watches as M copes with the loss, moves on and — eventually — moves out. He responds to the future tenants of the house and lingers as it becomes a sere husk — then lingers some more.
A Ghost Story is quiet, melancholy and thoughtful. To many viewers, that’ll be its greatest strength; this is a film not merely playing in a different key than its peers, but playing different instruments altogether. A Ghost Story cannot be categorized and belongs to no particular genre; moments that would be absurd in other films (such as M mournfully devouring that pie) are rendered poignant here.
Is it good? Yes, certainly. Is it great, essential, groundbreaking? I’m not sure. It’s certainly interesting. It’s like a difficult, incomprehensible painting observed in a museum; you will stare it and it will linger in your thoughts, but you would never buy a print to put up in your home.
Plenty of commentators and critics will develop very literal, very speculative interpretations of what transpires; I believe those analysts miss the point. This is not a film to be discussed or explained, merely one to be watched and felt. In our recap-and-breakdown-rich culture, that’s an anomaly, but a welcome one.
It’ll be really disappointing to those poor moviegoers expecting jump scares and ghouls, though.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark