Fair warning, if you haven’t actually watched the movie, walk away now because I’m about to spoil the whole thing. Otherwise, read on. Just don’t get peeved with me … you’ve been given ample time to make a substantial change in your trajectory.
A Ghost Story, David Lowery’s latest endeavor, has incredibly high ratings on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. This is for one of two reasons; either everyone genuinely thought it was the Best Movie Ever, or nobody has the balls to admit that they desperately wanted to escape this fart-sniffing monstrosity that thought far too much of itself and essentially copped out at the precise moment when it had the chance to pull itself together (what was on that blasted note?). So, is this a case of the emperor’s new clothes, or is it that fantastic a film? Let’s get into the details to figure that out.
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I’ve seen so many movies over the years that I could sincerely write a book on how to tell when a filmmaker is being lazy. And I’ll give Lowery this much—he’s not lazy. He took his estimated $100,000 budget and really made it work. I haven’t the foggiest idea how, it must have included favors since Rooney Mara’s price tag alone would normally be higher than that, but he accomplished it and made back over ten times his expenditure over the film’s opening weekend (if my sources are correct). That is impressive.
As for the movie itself, well, let’s look at what the Honest Movie Trailers’ version would be:
Basically two folks buy a home, one of them dies, then proceeds to haunt the house throughout time while chilling out in an ominous bedsheet, complete with eyeholes, until he circles back around to the timeframe of his early haunting days (where he watches himself, watching her) and finds a way to retrieve the note that his better half left in the wall. The moment he finds the note (which we don’t get to read), poof, he disappears, the end.
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To clarify, in case you’re reading this to find out what you missed because you didn’t watch it and don’t intend to, you missed a seven minute scene where nothing happens, save the visuals that accompany the sound of Rooney Mara eating a chocolate pie. Which she promptly throws up upon finishing. On a lighter note, they shot that scene in one take—yay for Mara’s stomach. To say that some of the subsequent scenes were painfully languorous would be to say that the Titanic sank into somewhat frigid waters. The sole place where this limping pace worked beautifully to provide sincere damage to my psyche, was in the early part of the film, right after the car wreck (which you don’t witness, you merely see the aftermath). M (Rooney Mara) has just identified C (Casey Affleck) in the morgue. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom. After a brief shot of her doing her thing, the camera returns to a seemingly uneventful scene—C beneath the sheet, on a table in the morgue. We’re at a slight distance with a partial curtain between us, so we only see about ¾ of C, and there is a full 68 seconds of nothing. Nothing. Now, I hadn’t seen the preview, so I knew absolutely nothing about the movie or what I was about to watch. My husband put it on and said we were going to watch it, and up to this point in the movie, precious little had happened beyond the couple having heard a noise in the house, presumably the night before (though it could have been a week prior, it’s tough to tell with this film). So 68 seconds later, when C pops straight up off of the table, I nearly had to go change my pants. This is coming from a horror movie veteran, who is never scared of anything. Ever. It was possibly the combination of not knowing anything in advance, the long wait, the lack of soundtrack (I don’t recall there being music of any kind during that wait, though I might be wrong) and the unsettling nature of the camera angle. It was sincerely impressive. It reminded me of the first few Japanese horror films I saw when I was in college where they had already figured out how to film someone walking backwards to then play it forwards, optimizing Freud’s theory of the uncanny … something’s off, because it should be correct, but it’s not right somehow and you can’t immediately figure out how. We hadn’t employed that method here in the states just yet, not at that time. And I am fairly sure it wasn’t until The Ring that we did. After that, all bets were off. But this was great. I started paying much closer attention to the movie after this. I did rewind it so that I could time the pause, and I noticed on the second go, it didn’t have the same effect, so it’s a one off. Alas, it was meaningful enough the first time to go on my list of top ten most frightening movie scenes.
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The real beauty of the movie, and what was truly terrifying, was the emotional resonance it held. It shook me to the core with the ramifications it held, assuming that its assumptions about life after death are correct. It’s emotionally devastating and it left me with a sense of what true horror is. It’s a quiet, resonant thing that while it can be loud and explosive, it doesn’t have to be. It’s patient, and will take all the time it needs to, to get precisely what it wants. If time is a closed system, as the movie suggests, then a ghost could experience that undead hell over and over again, watching all of time, for millions of years until somehow finding a way out. Gulp. No thanks. One life is enough, thank you.
Overall, I wanted to dislike this movie, dismiss it as complete crap, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t. I found myself wanting to watch it again. As bizarre as it was, as literary (I am torn as to whether I should use that word here, but it feels proper) as it is, it has a certain beauty to it. It’s both absurd, because honestly, dude’s wearing a sheet, and yet horrifying. If you let it sink into your brain, it will render you catatonic for quite some time as you contemplate all that the seemingly simple film wants you to in its 96 running minutes. In other words, good luck not thinking about it the next time you’re in the shower with little else to think about.