Movie review: 'A Ghost Story'

Jeff Reed

The scariest thing about “A Ghost Story” is the fact that it's the first time Rooney Mara has reportedly ever eaten pie. And though the 32-year-old actress's fantasy-romance of a film might be hard to stomach for some, slices of it are quite tasty.

From “A Ghost Story's” opening act, it's evident writer-director David Lowery has raised a film in the spirit of Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life.” It is no doubt ethereal entertainment, light on substance but never scared to tell a simple story about lasting love with few spoken words and fantastically striking sights.

With a small, rundown ranch of a home, Mara and her musician husband (Casey Affleck) are living a low-key, bohemian lifestyle. But the couple's first-world problems are put into perspective when a grief-stricken ghost begins to haunt their home.

Consider “A Ghost Story” the origin tale of the classic bedsheet-clad spirit. How the apparition comes to be and what it does with endless time doesn't always make for the most engaging film, but it does help craft an interesting one. Lowery is not afraid to be slow and stationary with his shots of Mara, Affleck and their ghost. Cinematography is one of “A Ghost Story's” strongest points. And with little said throughout the film, it has to be.

As does the score. Composer Daniel Hart keeps it creepy but avoids the temptation to abruptly frighten with forceful symphonic shrieks. He also makes one of the movie's more memorable scenes: the ghost's fall into the future. Coupled with Lowery's nighttime neon skyline in contrast to the ghost's worn and soiled wear, it is unexpected excellence.

It also conjures up a much different kind of drama. Though the name implies it, “A Ghost Story” is not a fright fest. Still, it does provide some scares, albeit subtle ones, by showing what life after death could entail, both for a lost soul and the one(s) it left behind.

But that's where Lowery himself gets a little lost. His takes can be a tad tedious and overindulgent in length, to the extent where they produce not pity but perceived pretentiousness and likely unintended laughter. Mara's solo-entry pie-eating contest being one such moment.

Other scenes, however, do warrant amusement for their twist on timeless tales: the horror amid a couple's hookup, the poltergeist that pushes out the feeble family and the “Scream”-like supposition from the insightful, intoxicated partygoer.

From that inebriate's philosophical soapbox to the Nietzsche on the leading couple's bookshelf, the 93-minute "Ghost Story” is an ephemeral, effective attempt at explaining the 19th-century philosopher's eternal return. And for its lofty ambitions and achievements with such a short runtime, it's one worthy of returned visits.

“A Ghost Story”

Opens Friday

4 stars out of 5