A man dies tragically and returns as a ghost draped in a white sheet with eye holes cut in it, and silently haunts his former spouse and the home they once shared. On the surface, it’s a goofy premise that most filmmakers would play for laughs, schlock, and/or sugary schmaltz of the highest order.
However, in the hands of David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and the recent Pete’s Dragon remake) it becomes something powerful and poetic, a cinematic tone poem on love, loss, and letting go told with a simplicity and poignancy bordering on genius.
Casey Affleck stars as said spirit, never mentioned by name in the film and listed only as “C” in the credits. C is a struggling musician living in a fixer-upper on the suburban fringes of an unspecified city (the movie was shot on location in Irving, Texas last summer) with his wife, M (Rooney Mara). Their banal marriage is cut short when C dies in a car accident in front of the home, rising from morgue slab under the sheet that becomes a spectral shroud of sorts.
C returns to their home as a silent, somber, and inscrutable observer as his wife grieves and eventually moves on; unable to do likewise, C is left to “haunt” the subsequent parade of residents and endure the passage of time as the world moves on around him. Eternity is, by definition, quite a long time, and it’s likely that much of it is mundane; it’s intriguing to see a movie touch on that in between a few existential curve balls.
Lowery’s decision to shoot the film with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 proves to be a clever one that highlights his conception of the film as a story “about someone basically trapped in a box for eternity”. It still allows for brilliant photography by Andrew Droz Palermo (You’re Next and V/H/S), whose horror movie background enables him to somehow find pockets of gloom in the middle of the Texas summer. The score, by Lowery’s frequent collaborator David Hart, is suitably evocative.
Such a meditative movie certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is what an indie movie should be: bold, original, quirky, genre-defying, and boundary pushing.