A Ghost Story scares up a poetic mood

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      Starring Casey Affleck. Rated PG

      Superficially, A Ghost Story can be said to resemble the prototypes laid out by Ghost and Truly, Madly, Deeply, in that one half of the love equation leaves the story early, but then spends the rest of the time, if not eternity, hanging around the other. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play the nameless couple occupying a small ranch-style home in a similarly unnamed rural place (actually Texas).

      An off-screen event quickly leaves Mara’s character to do the moping, pretty much like she did in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song. Malick’s ponderously poetic whateverism informs the pacing here, although writer-director David Lowery’s 90-minute mood piece is certainly a bit tighter. Which doesn’t mean it aims for streamlined entertainment. The only thing seamless here is the sheet, complete with Halloween eyeholes, worn by Affleck once he returns to the couple’s abode.

      Better known for Disney’s big-budget Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has a fetish for holding shots too long and repeating images that sufficed the first time. But when scared sheetless, in flashbacks, the mumbling Affleck is no Patrick Swayze. Mostly, his presence is unobtrusive, even if our gloomy spirit is able to interact with the physical world on occasion. Flickering lights and thumped piano strings—that sort of thing.

      So it’s weird when his first full-blown acting-out consists of scaring away the Mexican family that replaces his ex in the house. Later, in the film’s most bravura sequence, our ghostly protagonist flies forward, briefly, into the future and then back to the home’s 19th-century past, in time to see settlers wiped out (off-screen) by pesky “savages”.

      Lowery appears tone-deaf on race and history. And although his film doesn’t lack humour of a subtle kind, he misses opportunities for fun and tonal variety, as when ol’ Ghosty wanders through a big stoner party without spooking the guests. Instead, we’re treated to a numbing lecture from cult musician Will Oldham on the themes of the movie itself. Cut!

      Most impressively, this Story—shot in the blunted aspect ratio of old home movies—is good at capturing that sense of ineffable connection with what has come before us and what persists when we are gone. The living part’s a little weak, though.