REVIEW: “A Ghost Story”


When looking at the last three feature films from writer/director David Lowery you’re immediately struck by how dramatically different one movie is from another – 2013’s romantic crime thriller “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, last year’s Disney fantasy adventure “Pete’s Dragon”, and now his latest film, a meditative supernatural drama “A Ghost Story”.

Lowery’s dabbling in new areas of cinema makes sense. Throughout his time in filmmaking he has worn many hats – writer, director, editor, cinematographer, producer, and even actor among other things. So it’s no surprise seeing him try something new. But “A Ghost Story” (which he writes, directs, and edits) is so  unique and, quite frankly, unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.


As is always the case, the less you know about the film the better, but it rings especially true here. Still it should be said that “A Ghost Story” flips any genre norm on its head. There is nothing conventional or routine about it. Some are certain to check out before it’s done. Lowery is okay with that. In an interview with Yahoo! Movies, he stated that he hopes audiences will stick with it, but knows some will not. Thankfully it didn’t influence his creative choices otherwise “A Ghost Story” wouldn’t be the daring, profound experience it is.

The film reunites Lowery with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (from “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”). We never know the names of their characters, only that they are a husband and wife living in a modest suburban home. Their lives are shattered when Affleck’s character is killed in a car wreck. We wakes up as an invisible white-sheeted ghost and returns to his home. There he observes Mara’s character navigate through her various stages of grief.

Mara’s work here is quiet but astounding. It’s light on dialogue, soulful and evocative. Lowery often puts his camera in the observer’s role, leaving it on her through long extended takes. Many times the ghost stands silently in the background watching her every move and emotion. Throughout these scenes the film’s mood steadily grows heavier. Yet it’s not without humor. The absurdity of the ghost costume (a long white sheet with two cut-out eyeholes) is an intentional move. Lowery has described humor as a great “gateway emotion”. The costume is a wacky but welcomed entry point.


This is also where Lowery begins to play around with time, something that becomes more pronounced as the story progresses. We see it through the unfolding narrative but also in the incredibly clever construction of individual scenes. It’s even relayed through some aesthetic choices. For example the entire film is presented like a vintage snapshot – squared borders with rounded edges. The framing is reminiscent of something pulled out of time.

Around the midway point the film makes a notable but fluid shift that challenges the audience on an entirely different level. The mournful, tragic mood doesn’t go away, but Lowery expands his interest beyond a simple exploration of love and loss. We are never spoon fed the meaning to everything we see. Instead we’re prodded to react to and interpret the movie for ourselves. As we do, the haunting, meditative atmosphere remains with the exception of one scene, a half-drunken nihilistic party lecture. It is the single longest sequence of dialogue in the entire film. Unfortunately it pulled me out of the movie’s carefully maintained tone. But only briefly.


And then you have Daniel Hart’s fabulous score. It’s easily my favorite of the year so far. There are many moments where Lowery leans heavily on the music and often puts it in the place of dialogue. It’s a brilliant composition of emotions that ranges from eerie and haunting to tranquil and calming. Hart has worked with Lowery on his previous two films and their incredible chemistry is beyond question.

“A Ghost Story” isn’t for everyone and I’ll be interested to see how people react. I was under its spell from the start and found it to be both beautiful and tragic. Its story is patient and personal; its presentation audacious and impressionistic. And I was captivated by David Lowery’s unwillingness to embrace our expectations. This is the story he wanted to tell and it turns out to be one of the year’s biggest surprises and delights.



21 thoughts on “REVIEW: “A Ghost Story”

  1. Only read a few early reviews for this (yours included) and they have ranged from “is there a ZERO STAR??!” to glowing, and I’m thinking that the slow burn is mostly what people are getting . . . burned out by.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this. I thought I had seen it pop up in my area this weekend but I must have been looking at something else. A little bummed, but still with this review I’m eager and encouraged

    • I can see a lot of people being frustrated simply due to expectation. But this is no shallow or conventional movie. That’s just one of the things I loved about it. And the longer you stay with it the more you realize it has a lot more layers than you originally think.

      I’m so excited, in three weeks I’m getting to attend a special screening of it. Afterwords there will be an interview and Q&A with David Lowery and Jeff Nichols. I can’t wait mainly because this is a movie that demands to be thought about and discussed. I hope you get to see it and have the same experience.

  2. Nice review Keith. Thus far this has been my favorite film of 2017, and there were so many parts in A Ghost Story that hit me like a brick. The performances, the direction, and the absurdist humor mixed with intimate tragedy made this picture so memorable for myself. Also, it’s really cool you got to see a Q&A with Lowery and Jeff Nichols.

    • I agree, all of those ingredients are great. And I can’t praise the score enough. I loved it. It’s such a tricky movie but in a good way. It’s simply not constricted by any conventional bounds. Oh, and the Q&A screening is in three weeks. I can’t wait!

    • Thanks Liam. Divisive indeed and I can see why. It’s almost indescribable. Lowery has definitely crafted his own unique thing here. Hope you get a chance to see it soon.

    • I would really be interested in hearing your thoughts on it. It is a far cry from being a traditional horror film. Not really a horror film at all. But it is mesmerizing.

  3. I am glad you gave it high remarks; reviews differ, but if there’s allegory or hidden meanings, I am for it! Sometimes it’s hard to watch a film and if taken at the surface level, it seems off. But true art asks questions and evokes discussions. It also sounds like a beautifully made film, which matters to me! Thanks for the great review.

    • Thanks Cindy. With this one there is so much more going on under its surface. Going in I knew it was an unconventional movie, but I left with my mind blown. I adore this film and have found myself replaying certain scenes and questioning how they fit in. And yes, it is beautifully made. And all with a $100,000 budget!

      • That is so true. This is one of those proofs that throwing money at a screen isn’t the measure of success. Story, character, vision, craft, etc…all have a more meaningful impact on a film.

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