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


Preston Barta // Features Editor

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

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.