A24 87 minutes. R
This is not a film for everyone. Just be willing to be patient watching a thought-provoking, slow-moving film that is intense, but not scary. It’s about life, love and grief plus the history of your existence told from the point of view of a ghost! And it is strangely haunting.
We saw this film twice and glad we did. Plus we were able to talk with Writer/Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) at the Q & A after the second screening. He explained a few of the most memorable scenes, and his main character, who is draped in a simple sheet. Lowery also noted that A24, the distributor handling this film, opened of A Ghost Store in New York City to publicize the film. What does this store sell? That’s right, bedsheets!
Cinematographer, Andrew Droz Palermo, also explained some of the challenges he faced shooting the film in 4:3 ratio which creates more intimate closeups. Droz was not used to shooting such long, static shots. We also talked with Lowery about the Kushelov effect. That’s where there is a continuous shot of a person or thing (in this case the Ghost) and the audience is influenced or reacts emotionally to it depending on what was seen before or after. The ghost draws out an emotional reaction throughout the elongated time he’s on camera.
Lowery was inspired to write this film after fighting with his wife about whether to move from his home turf, Irving, Texas, to Los Angeles. But that’s where the similarity to his real life stops.
Lowery has always been fascinated with ghosts and he’s also very spiritual and sentimental about relationships to places and objects, in addition to people. Somehow he manages to put all of these themes together in a film that will have you scratching your head, but gives you plenty to think about long after leaving the theater.
It took 10 days shooting with Casey Affleck as the husband and Rooney Mara as his wife. They don’t have names. The very first scenes are of their house in rural Texas. Pay attention to the conversation in the first scenes of the film showing their relationship and you’ll understand more later. They wake in the middle of the night when there’s sudden noise from the piano in the living room, and search to see what it is. Is it a ghost?
Affleck’s character dies suddenly and after his wife views the body, she leaves, then it rises under the sheet and two eye holes appear. The apparition follows her home where he observes how she handles her grief. Rooney is brooding and vulnerable with seething intensity. Affleck’s performance is mainly under wraps.
Lowery told us that they had to make the sheet because even a King size wouldn’t have been big enough nor flowed the way he wanted. We asked about how he chose the size of the eye holes and he said they tried round, square and oval, but stuck with what you see most of the film. (There is one scene where he says the eye holes are larger than the others.)
Most notable? The pie scene. Newly widowed Rooney is sullen and morose. When a neighbor leaves a pie for her, she takes out her anguish the way she eats and keeps eating that pie. It’s one long continuous shot of her going at it, sinking to the floor while she continues jabbing and shoving more pie in her mouth for a full 5 minutes. At first it’s a little boring, then disturbing, and then morphs into weird, until she finally stops and runs to the bathroom across the house to throw up. What kind of pie was it? Lowery told us it was a sugar-free, vegan chocolate-pudding pie Rooney had never tasted before. It came from a bakery in Dallas.
The song, “I Get Overwhelmed,” is the ethereal, haunting tune Casey Affleck plays for Rooney. It comes from composer Daniel Hart (who also composed Pete’s Dragon). He wrote the song for his band’s new album, but when Lowery heard it, he couldn’t get it out of his head. The song reflects what he wants us to feel from the movie, a bittersweet, melancholy, dramatic desperation. It becomes the centerpiece of the film. It’s even sung in another part of the history of the house by a little girl.
For the most part this is a film that communicates through silence, but there are a few times when emotion bubbles to the surface and it’s effectively jarring for the audience. The Ghost snaps and goes on a rampage after a happy, normal Hispanic family moves into his house.
Lowery also scripts his worldview into the otherworldly tale. It’s delivered during a party taking place in the Ghost’s house when self indulgent guest, played by Will Oldham, goes into a rapid fire rant explaining the meaning (or lack) of life, the universe and our place in it, ala Terence Malick. It looks and feels improvised, but Lowery credits Oldham with being a talented actor who delivered his words exactly as they appear in his script.
The film cost $150,000 to make. Lowery funded it off his take from Pete’s Dragon. But it paid off, since this is the first film Lowery has been able to get accepted for presentation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it’s getting a lot of positive buzz.
A second viewing helped to get the feel of the non-linear structure of the timeline. The story not only bounces around from days, weeks and years, but decades and epochs! Let the confusion wash over you and settle in for the underlying emotion and anguish. Some may think this film bizarre, but it is intriguing. It’s ghostly, but definitely not scary, and will only keep you up at night if you want to take a stab at figuring it out.