The classic cheap Halloween costume–a bedsheet with two holes for eyes–becomes a symbol of grief and longing in David Lowery’s spooky-somber chamber piece A Ghost Story. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star as a young suburban couple mostly in love, though it’s clear that some kind of rift has opened between the two of them. There’s an accident. Mara’s character–the duo go unnamed throughout the film–is called upon to identify her partner’s body. As she turns to leave, he, or the spiritual entity he has become, rises from the gurney. Fully draped in a sheet, he follows her back to the house they shared, the site of both their greatest happiness and creeping unrest. This melancholic presence, a melding of the spiritual and the workaday, watches in sober silence as his partner mourns him, and eventually moves on.
There’s more to this elegiac, nearly wordless drama than that. And writer-director Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) works in a twist at the end. What’s most remarkable about A Ghost Story is how easy it becomes to care for that figure under the sheet, presumably Affleck, who can convey the deepest sense of sorrow, or of just feeling lost in the world, with a mere twist of the torso. And Mara is perfectly cast as the girl who’s been left behind; even the willowy curve of her neck suggests a quiet thoughtfulness.
Lowery can’t always keep the movie from drifting through the mists of pretension, and the tremulous, too-precious score, by Daniel Hart, is sometimes intrusive. Still, the picture’s visual imagery–the cinematographer is Andrew Droz Palermo–is so restlessly poetic that it’s hard to turn away. Like a wild, sonorous piano chord struck by someone or something in the middle of the night–where did that come from?–the contemplative aura of A Ghost Story sticks with you. Who knows if there’s life after death? But if there is, it could very well look something like this.
This appears in the July 24, 2017 issue of TIME.
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