Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg is effortlessly cool. Everything is just so, but special. With only three theaters, each small and intimate, this isn’t an AMC. Concessions aren’t bought through your stand-on-line traditional stand outside; you sit, consult your full-stop artisanal dinner menu, write your order down with a golf pencil and your waiter collects it. The smallness and understated part of not feeling like one fish in the Times Square AMC sea is what really sets Nitehawk apart. It’s great.
Now, onto the film review.
A Ghost Story (2017) directed by David Lowery is a heartfelt, deep drama that could be confused as a comedy. Haunting only because of its near-silence, A Ghost Story isn’t scary in even the loosest term. Named like a horror, it is anything but. A husband (Casey Affleck) and his wife (Rooney Mara) live in a small rural house, the backdrop to a quiet life. About to pack up and move out of the countryside, the Wife says something nostalgic about leaving a note behind in every house she’s ever lived in, in case she ever wanted to come back. It’s almost a throwaway line, said to take up space – later, it has a lasting connotation.
But the Husband dies in a car accident before they can move. From there, he becomes a Ghost, taking on new skin – the sheet his body is covered with in the hospital, which he functions beneath, lives underneath. He expresses and emotes through the medium of the sheet, with black eyehole cutouts; he’s a silent, faceless ghost in the near-comedic archetypal embodiment of ghosts as we’ve come to know them in Scooby Doo. Husband haunts Wife as she grieves; staring, sitting, sulking. He sees her bring home a date. He watches while her car drives away the day she moves out. He’s there while the house sees new families, parties and demolition – years and years, decades. He sees life go by, but as a bystander and surveyor no one can see.
We can’t see his face, but his unseen presence in a house moving forward in life and time is deeply, cuttingly sad. You think your heart hurts, but then Husband walks the hallway, long white sheet catching behind him like the train of a gown, and the simple not-meant-to-be-funny act causes misplaced laughter. Then, his lonely solitary figure scratches at the painted-over wall, through the sheet, to read the note Wife left behind, the last tether to his wife, and you think again: oh. Sad. But at first the story isn’t a romance; you don’t exactly see a fairytale in how Wife asks Husband questions and he gives her one-word answers, affectionate it seems in only an expected married way. We learn he doesn’t want to move, he likes the house and can’t explain why. As the film goes on, the reason he doesn’t want to move is actually clever, an explained bump-in-the-night; interesting in a simple movie that has a five-minute scene watching Wife eat a chocolate pie. The love comes later. You see he does love her, but it’s a little-too-late deal – and, unfortunately, a vicious circle to cycle forever.
Overall, I felt like I had to work to enjoy the movie – use parts of my brain I wouldn’t normally, turn on my intellectual facets; you can’t sit mindlessly and watch. I felt like I had to work at being affected – it might be the little dialogue, how the story creeps forward in infinitesimal baby steps. While I did feel a sense of love and loss, really all A Ghost Story left me with was the sour, leaden anxious feeling of being left behind.