Blu-ray Review: A Ghost Story

By , Contributor
Call me a philistine. Say I'm a sucker for sentiment. Hell, tell me I'm a rube. But I must state this upfront: give me the old fashioned storytelling craft of The Sixth Sense or even Ghost over writer-director David Lowery's art house fave A Ghost Story. Countless critics have tripped over themselves attempting to sing its praises. In short, Oscar winner Casey Affleck, billed simply as C, dies in a car crash and spends his afterlife haunting the house he and wife M (Rooney Mara) lived in. C walks around in a huge bedsheet with eye holes cut in it. He gets mad when M brings home a new boyfriend. He torments the new homeowners after M moves out. Eventually he time travels both backward and forward at the very same site the was built upon.

It's a 92-minute experiment. Lowery takes a slip of an idea—and make no mistake, this is a highly undeveloped idea—that might've made a passably third-rate Twilight Zone episode and pads it with interminable shots so static they're almost still-life exercises. His camera lingers meditatively on the country house C and M live(d) in. One particularly fidget-inducing shot holds on M as she indulges in a pie that a neighbor dropped off as a sympathy gift after C's death. She eats the whole thing while sitting on the floor, then bolts for the bathroom to throw it up.

A Ghost Story takes a stab at exploring grief, memory, existential dread... but Lowery attempts all this without the aid of a story or even, for the most part, dialogue. The film opens with uneventful scenes of domestic contentment between C and M, the very ordinariness of their interactions being the point. Much later we hear a drunken blowhard deliver a rambling treatise on the pointlessness of legacy (and life in general) at a party observed by C. Being unconventional is fine, but if there's been a recent example of the ol' "Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome I'd say it's this.

And again, some would say I (and other naysayers) just don't 'get it.' Isn't that always the case when a big slab of pretension is excreted as 'art' and someone dares say they'd rather watch Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore spin pottery? Maybe I'm a big dummy and there's more to Casey Affleck (or what could be quite literally anyone) lumbering around silently than my small mind can comprehend. That's okay. Before I sit through this again, I'll go watch Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment cover much of the same emotional territory (albeit in more traditional, yet so much more successful, form).

Lionsgate's Blu-ray presentation is, at least, beyond reproach. The image is framed at 1.33:1—in other words, the image is pillarboxed like old-school, pre-HD era TV. This retro framing was recently employed, rather pointlessly, by director Andrea Arnold in the otherwise fascinating American Honey (though they're totally unrelated, Honey is highly recommended where art house fare is concerned).

Admittedly Lowery has much greater purpose in resurrecting this now seldom-used aspect ratio. The narrow, boxy image forces us to view this film through something approaching the limitations of C's sheet holes. It helps enhance A Ghost Story's otherworldly feel. The visuals of A Ghost Story are its greatest asset and luckily for viewers, they look good here. The minimalist audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1.

Special features: audio commentary featuring director David Lowery and several crew members, a 20-minute Ghost Hunters-style featurette "A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time," a short piece on composer Daniel Hart, and a deleted scene. 

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For me personally, few films have inspired the mixture of disgust and indifference I felt while screening A Ghost Story. Fact: if a filmmaker holds every shot long enough, literally any tuft of cottonball fluff can be extended to feature length. But in the case of Lowery's indulgence (mind you, a clearly talented filmmaker—his 2016 Pete's Dragon is the most distinctive and deeply felt of all the recent Disney remake/reboots), there's just no there there.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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