‘A Ghost Story’ casts a bizarre spell

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY JAKE COYLE

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.

AP PHOTO

This im­age re­leased by A24 shows Rooney Mara in a scene from the film, “A Ghost Story.”

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