‘A Ghost Story’ casts a bizarre spell
A fatal, off-screen car crash interrupts the picturesque, suburban lives of a young married couple in David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,’’ marooning the deceased husband musician (Casey Affleck) in a kind of purgatory as a watchful, mostly benign ghost.
The movie is, inevitably, “the one where Casey Affleck spends most of the movie with a bedsheet over his head.’’ With two holes for eyes, he resembles a last-minute Halloween costume. Such a simple, sheeted spectre — as Hollywood ghosts go — is tantamount to a radical deviation from prevailing orthodoxy. There’s no CGI. Nobody gets slimed. A shirtless Patrick Swayze doesn’t make a single pot.
No, the most audacious display of cinematic extreme in “A Ghost Story’’ is a scene where the ghost watches his widowed wife (Rooney Mara), in a fit of grief and hunger, eat pie. For five minutes.
“A Ghost Story’’ may sound like a punchline. Such is the curse of movies with coveredup movie stars and marathon pie-eating scenes. But it’s an exceedingly earnest, meditative movie about big ideas — the nature of time, life’s impermanence — that goes well beyond the intentionally dime-store costume design.
It’s an often transfixing, frequently unsatisfying fable that blends the fantastical with the banal in a way that the naturalistic/surrealistic Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weeresethakul might if someone were to hand him a bedsheet.
Lowery shot the film secretly in between making Disney movies: after directing the rebooted “Pete’s Dragon’’ and before developing a new “Peter Pan.’’
It was designed like an audacious indie experiment, made with little expectation of triumph, that reteamed the stars (Affleck, Mara) of Lowery’s lyrical outlaw romance “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.’’
And “A Ghost Story,’’ with fragmented scenes and leaps through time, does have the electric feel of something made off the radar and without a net. The early scenes between the couple — known only as M (her) and C (him) — have a cosmic backdrop, interspersed with shots of the sky at night, the humming of a quivering score of violins and the lush sunlight of Texas golden hour. A strange noise wakes them at night, and Lowery lingers on the couple as they hold each other in bed, kiss softly and drift back to sleep.
But on a beautiful, buzzing morning, we find the husband slumped against the wheel outside their home. In the morgue, Lowery holds his shot on the body after the wife and doctors depart. A few moments later, the sheet-covered body sits up, walks down the hall, opts not to step into the light, and meanders his way home.
This image released by A24 shows Rooney Mara in a scene from the film, “A Ghost Story.”