Life adrift: Dallas filmmaker’s ‘GHOST STORY’ is a haunting pleasure

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

A GHOST STORY
Rated R, 92 minutes.
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney MaraWill OldhamLiz FrankeRob Zabrecky and Sonia Acevedo
Opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas and Plano.

There’s a quote that reads, “Nothing belongs to us. Even the air we breathe must be exhaled.” It’s the kind of thought that stops you in your tracks and consumes you. The idea that nothing is permanent and that everything created eventually meets its demise is staggering.

Dallas filmmaker David Lowery — who has undoubtedly made our city proud with his touching live-action telling of PETE’S DRAGON and next year’s OLD MAN AND THE GUN (supposedly Robert Redford’s farewell to acting) — crafts a beautifully melancholic story of legacy, love and loss from this belief.

In his new film A GHOST STORY, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a young nameless couple in disagreement over whether to leave their small suburban house. In a few brief clips of dialogue, we observe as the wife yearns to move and start a new life elsewhere, while her songwriter husband admires the history of their isolated home. But fate interrupts their ongoing exchange when we find Affleck’s character dead from a car accident a few feet from their driveway.

Rooney Mara stars in David Lowery’s beautifully haunting ‘A GHOST STORY.’ Courtesy of A24.

Lowery chooses not to focus on the fatal head-on collision, but instead the aftermath. He concerns himself more with character reactions and emotions than the action itself. Even in the following sequence, instead of showing the wife hysterically crying at the scene, Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo (director of ONE AND TWO) keep the square-like 1.33:1 aspect ratio (made to signify the idea of the departed character being in a box) fixed on her looking over her husband’s corpse in the morgue. It’s a subtle approach that allows audiences to go through the perplexing feelings just like the characters.

From this point, we float from scene to scene like the ghost Affleck’s character has become. When his deceased figure sits up, draped in a long white sheet with cut-out holes for eyes, he wanders through the hospital corridors and returns to his house to watch his widow grieve. It’s a thought we all have wondered in our lives: Who will miss us when we’re gone, and what footprint will we leave in the sands of time?

Filmed regionally in Irving, with its music mixed in Denton, A GHOST STORY is a beautiful ode for our times. It’s a quiet film that’s easy to get lost in, as it paints a lush world to observe through the eye-holes of its mute ghost. Scenes such as a prognosticator (a captivating Will Oldham) explaining how the world will remember its people and their creations will send viewers down a rabbit hole of philosophical thinking.

While there are some minor sequences that rip at the thread of its well-woven characters and a missed opportunity to take this story even further with its emotional potency, Lowery’s lyrical narrative will release you into the world a richer person. It’s certainly the most evocative movie you’ll see this year, and a strong contender for the best.

Grade: A

Writer-director David Lowery on the set of ‘A GHOST STORY.’ Photo by Bret Curry, courtesy of A24.

Q&A with David Lowery

Preston Barta will be moderating a special Q&A screening of A GHOST STORY with writer-director David Lowery at 7:15 p.m. Friday at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas. Tickets can be purchased at www.angelikafilmcenter.com.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.

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