Dallas filmmaker David Lowery seemed well on his way to blockbuster territory with his last film, a stylized update of the ’70s Disney hit “Pete’s Dragon.” That destination seemed even more a certainty when word came out that he’d be remaking “Peter Pan.”
But, for Lowery, the way to the Hollywood Hills still winds through the North Texas flatlands as he hasn’t forgotten his roots. “A Ghost Story,” a hypnotic, melancholic low-budget meditation on love, heartbreak and memory that was shot in Irving, Fort Worth and Dallas, is about as far away from Neverland as could be imagined.
If “Pete’s Dragon” is Lowery’s knock on the door of the mainstream, “A Ghost Story” finds him back in the world of indie cinema. It’s distinctively vintage Lowery, the same guy who gave us “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” in 2013, the film that introduced the broader art house audience to his talents.
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First of all, “A Ghost Story” is not a horror film so don’t get it twisted. It’s even shot in a nostalgic, square aspect ratio, meaning it possesses none of the wide-screen, sensory overload of a summer blockbuster. And, while it’s a love story about the world beyond our plane intersecting with the mundane and the mortal, the ghost in question is not a Patrick Swayze hunk but Affleck in a sheet with eye holes. Big difference.
Affleck and Mara are a couple — their characters aren’t named — who find themselves split over whether to move out of their house but then the decision is made for them when Affleck is killed in a car wreck.
But he’s not ready to go. Shrouded in a sheet, he rises from the coroner’s slab and — in a beautifully shot sequence —walks across what looks like Dallas’ Trinity River bottoms to get back to the life he once knew.
Yet, as the saying goes, you can’t go home again. He can see Mara but she can’t see him and he watches not just her life unfold — her descent into grief and binge pie-eating and then her bringing a new man into her life — but all the lives of those who move in even after she has long moved out. He’s not just in love with her, but with a sense of place, a sense of home.
He even communes with a ghost visiting the house next door whose loved one is no longer there.
Written by Lowery, “A Ghost Story” is not for everybody and doesn’t pretend to have something deeply profound to say about love, loss and remembrance. But as a droll sketch of a life interrupted and then continued from outside our earthly periphery, “A Ghost Story” is an intriguing and fascinating side step in Lowery’s upward trajectory.
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A Ghost Story
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
Rated: R (brief strong language, a disturbing image)
Running time: 92 min.